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VI.4 July-Aug. 1999
Page: 13
Digital Citation

Business: a day-in-the-life of a customer centered design consultant

Deborah Mrazek, Amy Silverman

back to top  Introduction

There is really no typical day in the life of a Customer Centered Design Expert. In fact, there is no typical CCD Expert; some of us (including the authors) are consultants, while others work on a specific product. But all of us in the field share a commonality of experience that can be both illustrative and constructive.

For those of you who work on a specific product, we thought you might like to see how the "other half" lives. For those of you who are consultants, we hope you see a little of yourself in this article. We hope that by stepping back and showing you a little different view into the customer centered work world, you will better understand and appreciate the role you play.

We decided to use a diary format to make reading (and writing) this a little more fun. For each diary entry, we've included the time, location and activity. We've also included a retrospective for each entry. These retrospective sections are the key to tying together the individual tasks and pieces into a larger whole. We hope this diary format will help show the variety, challenges and rewards of a consultant's job.

The specific person ("Clara") and day illustrated in this diary are fictitious, but this day is based on real-life experiences of activities and problems that we (and others) have been asked to help solve.

back to top  A Day in the Life

Clara the Customer-Centered Design (CCD) Consultant was supposed to be in the Bay Area to facilitate an important workshop. She also had several other commitments for that day. She decided that she would fly into the San Francisco Airport (SFO) the evening before, so she could be ready, rested and prepared.

However, the SFO weather didn't cooperate. Instead of landing at 8:30 p.m., her plane didn't land until after 11 p.m. Not feeling alert enough to drive in the middle of the night, she cancelled her hotel reservations in Santa Clara and stayed near the airport. We pick up with the start of her busy day.

back to top  Conclusions

Again, this is a fictitious day, but it illustrates many of the challenges and rewards of being a consultant. The challenges include balancing work and family life, feeling stretched between a variety of projects with dissimilar timelines, international travel, and blurred boundaries between work and personal time. The rewards include applying a variety of methods to a wide range of technologies and business situations, horizontal and vertical influences within an organization and the ability to see the "light bulb" go on as people become more customer-centered in their thinking.

back to top  Us and Our Team

Deborah and Amy are members of Hewlett-Packard's Customer-Centered Design team, part of HP's corporate Customer-Centered Quality (CCQ) department. The team has been in existence for about 4 years, and is tasked with helping HP become a more customer-centered company, particularly in the area of planning, designing and building products and services. This is done by partnering with divisions to help them better acquire, analyze and apply customer data.

Deborah Mrazek is a Senior Customer Centered Design Consultant. She has been with HP for over 11 years. During this time, she has worked as a Customer Centered Design Consultant, User Centered Design Manager and User Centered Design Expert. In the last five years, she has done extensive work in the area of international ethnographic (day-in-the-life) research methods, customer profiling and converting customer data into product and solution requirements. She has worked in and with a wide variety of projects, including both products and services to be used by consumers, corporations and internal to HP.

Amy Silverman is also a Senior Customer Centered Design Consultant. She has been with HP for over 4 years. During this time, she has worked as a Customer Centered Design Consultant and a User Centered Design Expert. In the last two years, she has done extensive work in the area of international usability testing and integrating customer centered methods into an organization's development lifecycle. She has worked in and with a wide variety of products, her primary focus is on consumer oriented products.

back to top  Authors

Deborah Mrazek
Customer Centered Design Consultant

Amy Silverman
Customer Centered Design Consultant

Business Column Editor
Susan Dray
Dray & Associates
2007 Kenwood Parkway
Minneapolis, MN 55405 USA
fax: +1-612-377-0363 or

back to top  Sidebar: Diary

6:00 a.m.

San Francisco Airport Hilton

Called Jesus, an engineer in Barcelona, to talk with him about some questions he has on interpreting the usability testing results.

I've been working with Jesus and his multi-disciplinary team for 6 months. His team is working on a new product for the office. This product has had many engineering challenges and the customers' expectations are high. This is the first time this team has really followed a customer-centered design process from the beginning to end of the product lifecycle.

I have focused my engagement with them on helping them analyze customer tasks, set customer-centered release criteria and then iteratively design and test using the predefined release criteria.

Throughout my partnership with the team they have increased their knowledge and have gained more experience with CCD. As a result, I'm glad to see them taking more ownership for the outcomes of their customer-centered activities. They have even begun to develop some innovative task analysis formats that better fit their organizational style. I really enjoy it when my involvement with a team results in them starting to think outside of the box.

7:30 a.m.


Drove to the Santa Clara site. Called home on the way to see how everyone is doing. All is well.

8:30 a.m.

Santa Clara site

Facilitated a half-day workshop with Program Managers about vintage chart planning.

Today I met with some of the higher level Program Managers to help them plan their solution road maps around delivering a whole-customer solution. They were familiar with my colleague's earlier work, with some of their Product Managers, aimed at aligning customer solutions with specific product objectives. It is great to now have the opportunity to continue to tie the customer needs and goals with higher level program objectives.

Delivering this kind of workshop is very streamlined since we can build customized versions for individual needs from a basic template. Leveraging workshops benefits everyone…we can deliver services efficiently, and our clients see quick turnaround times for workshops that perfectly fit their business needs.

It is so rewarding to have such wide span of influence within a company benefiting people at multiple levels in the organization and affecting positive change.

1:00 p.m.

Santa Clara site (borrowed empty cube to use for the afternoon)

Participated in a virtual meeting with our team training coordinator, the Andover, MA site education coordinator and an Andover project manager. Meeting was to review the customized training module that they requested.

The activities of this day really remind me of the diversity of the work we do. I remember when we first spoke with the people at Andover about adding this class to their site open-enrollment education list. Once our team training coordinator spoke with their site education coordinator in more detail, it was clear to us that involving the project manager in the discussion was key to its success. From that point on we all worked to evolve the class and customize it to best meet their needs and align with their target audience.

The Andover coordinator expects that most of the people that will be taking this training are hardware engineers, new on the job. We plan to add a module that we call 'What's wrong with this picture'. In this module we will show pictures of common day things and situations that have inherent usability issues. We will then have the class participants critique these slides for usability improvements.

It turns out that some of the organizational alignment problems they were hoping to solve through training are difficult to address in a class format. Supporting management consulting is also needed. I am no longer surprised when a request for training turns into a consulting engagement. It just highlights for me that the most successful training our team takes part in works best just-in-time and with an intact team.

3:00 p.m.

Red Carpet Club at the SFO airport

Reviewed e-mail. Received thank-you letter from Loveland team, several at the SFO resumes for job candidates for a position within one of the divisions I am airport helping to fill, a request for information on developing metrics for Web usage, and a status message about the date and time of our next staff meeting.


I received today a note from a program manager in Loveland. He seemed to really appreciate how I framed the work with them into short-term and long-term activities and how I was able to work within some of their short-term resource constraints but still highlight the long-term payoff. One insight he had was when he recognized that even though "more time is spent with up-front activities, the payoff is with the speed and accuracy of product design and development later on."

Several resumes came in today for my review. Helping divisions with the hiring of employees that are in human factors, marketing, quality or some other CCD position keeps me in the loop with how the division is developing their program. Having our support and corporate wide insight is really critical for those divisions who are just starting to build their customer-centered capabilities.

I am excited to see the message from one of my CCQ colleagues about helping her support a division that wants to measure usage of the corporate Web site. An opportunity to collaborate with other consulting peers helps me develop a unified understanding of corporate consulting skills. In this case there is an overlap between our areas of expertise since she is chartered with helping divisions create metrics to measure customer loyalty and my knowledge focuses on usage issues. Partnering with others just increases my personal and professional rewards.

Communication tools (such as Meet-Me Number) have really helped our team conduct virtual meetings on a just-in-time basis in addition to regularly scheduled face-to face meetings. This is crucial since we don't sit at the same site; our CCD team is spread out over the West Coast. Now that we can have virtual meetings we can jointly create new tools, maintain team infrastructure, and provide moral support. This increased level of contact adds to our positive team dynamic, cohesiveness, and overall effectiveness.

4:30 p.m.


Flying home after a long but productive day


This downtime enables me to reflect on the day's progress and think about future challenges. It's sometimes hard to juggle so many projects that have different timelines, constraints and expectations. But I can't imagine a more challenging and rewarding position.

7:00 p.m.

House of Wong (near my office)

Strategy dinner with one of my consultants to talk about the plans for some field research.


This field research is to study a work practice in which Sue is an expert. Since Sue has become well versed in our CCD philosophy through prior work with me, her fresh insights in this specific topic area spark new ideas for me on improving how I partner with my client. Using outside consultants helps me to expand my sphere of influence by bringing in specific subject matter expertise or by being an extra pair of hands and eyes for me when I'm stretched too thin.

I like working with Sue; we have done many projects together and she helps to reinforce "our" ways of doing things when she partners with our clients. She is experienced enough that she requires very little direction from me to keep the ball moving.

Having opportunities like this meeting to catch up on the project helps keep her activities tied to the larger whole.

10:00 p.m.

Drifting off

Realization that right now in Japan they are to sleep doing their first unsupervised UI inspection. I wonder how it's going…

back to top 

©1999 ACM  1072-5220/99/0700  $5.00

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