1996 Symposium Report
Usability Engineering: Industry-Government Collaboration
for System Effectiveness and Efficiency

Laura L. Downey, Chair
Dr. Sharon J. Laskowski
Elizabeth A. Buie
Dr. H. Rex Hartson

NOTE: This report can be found in printed form in the ACM SIGCHI Bulletin, October 1996, Volume 28, Number 4, pp 66-67.


This report summarizes the activities of Usability Engineering: Industry-Government Collaboration for System Effectiveness and Efficiency, a symposium held February 26, 1996, at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA. Over 100 people attended presentations covering a broad range of usability engineering topics.

The interest in this symposium's topics is illustrated by the fact that despite a postponement of the symposium from January 10 to February 26 due to the U.S. federal government furlough, combined with the Blizzard of '96, almost all the speakers and attendees were willing to change their schedules to accommodate the new date. We do hope that future activities will have fewer obstacles to overcome.


The idea for the symposium originated during a CHI '95 workshop, HCI Challenges in Government Contracting. This workshop was one in a series of gatherings of human-computer interaction (HCI) professionals involved in government projects at the local, state/provincial, national, and international levels. Past SIGCHI Bulletin issues (October, 1994, pp. 49-50 and October, 1995, pp. 35-37) contain reports on previous gatherings.

Usability Engineering and Re-Inventing Government

Computers are supporting increasingly complex tasks which then require progressively more sophisticated and interactive systems. The fiscal necessity of employing commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) products with legacy data increases the complexity of designing such systems. Consequently, application of HCI techniques becomes increasingly important to ensure that usable systems are built. This is especially evident in government systems because of the large number (and high cost) of custom computer systems and legacy system integration and updates.

Simply put, it is critical for government and industry to implement the best practices now available to ensure the usability of new and re-engineered government systems.

This symposium aimed at bringing together industry and government to raise awareness about usability practices and exchange information and strategies for achieving effectivness, efficiency and satisfaction in computer-based government systems.


The symposium was held February 26, 1996 at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland, a suburban Washington, D.C. site (also the site of the first CHI). The program committee chose this location to facilitate attendance by government employees who are often restricted in their traveling ability and limited the program to one day at a reasonable cost to further encourage participation by government employees and government contractors.


The original program committee consists of the authors of this report. Bill Hefley of the Software Engineering Institutue, has recently joined the committee to help coordinate 1997 activities.


The symposium covered the following topics:

Presentations and Speakers


The 116 attendees included representatives from industry, government agencies, the U.S. Senate, the National Science Foundation, and academia.

The attendees comprised the following groups:

While the 28% non-NIST government participation is encouraging, a higher percentage is desirable to achieve the symposium's goal of educating government personnel in the need to specify, incorporate, and apply the best practices in usability engineering.


Both positive and constructive feedback was obtained through the feedback/open forum session, symposium feedback sheets (46/116 returned), and comments from colleagues. The majority of the attendees agreed that a continuation of activities to promote usability in the government arena was of strategic importance. Specific feedback/suggestions included:

Constructive criticism for future symposia included:

Future Activities

The organizers are currently putting together a post-symposium publication, which is scheduled for release sometime in Fall 1996. Because of the growing interest in applying usability engineering to government systems, we are also planning a second symposium at NIST (tentatively scheduled for March 3, 1997). Additionally, we are encouraging the formation of a Washington-based usability group to facilitate and enable usability in the government arena (NIST can serve as a focal point for meetings, information dissemination, etc.)

We invite and welcome participation in our activities. Anyone interested in focusing on usability in the government arena may send email to sharon.laskowski@nist.gov or call +1-301-975-4535 for more information.

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Last Updated: 4-17-98 Monday, 27-Apr-1998 12:53:08 MDT