I recall a conversation that took place about six years ago with Whitney Quesenbery, then the president of UPA, when I suggested that there should be a journal for publishing findings of usability studies. Whitney was fast to challenge me to take it on and become the editor of such a publication with the sponsorship of UPA.
Here is what I wrote in my original proposal to UPA:
“Throughout the years I have heard in a variety of forums many queries starting with the words: ‘Looking for empirical research on usability and the…’ More often than not, the replies to such queries were based on personal experiences and anecdotal evidence. Rarely, a peer-reviewed published research is cited. This reflects a real problem in the community of usability engineering practice. There are quite a few peer-reviewed academic journals out there that are dedicated to Human-Computer Interaction that can potentially be a forum for disseminating findings of user studies. However, the findings of many user studies are not compatible with the aims, scope and publication criteria of many of those journals. With the exception of conferences such as the annual UPA conference, the Usability SIG of the STC and other smaller forums (e.g., the online magazine Boxes and Arrows, although not peer-reviewed as is proposed here, etc.) there is no available forum for usability practitioners and applied researchers to disseminate many of their findings and experiences that are of general interest to this community.”
The Journal of Usability Studies (JUS) was first published in November 2005 and is now in its sixth year. What have we accomplished with five volumes, each consisting of four issues, and each issue consisting of three peer-reviewed articles and one invited editorial? To start with, we have a great compendium of about 80 articles and essays on diverse topics and issues, all related to usability. Moreover, each published article is rigorously and critically reviewed by two independent reviewers before it is accepted and published. We have provided a forum for usability practitioners and applied researchers to disseminate many of their findings and experiences that are of general interest to this community.
How can we extend these accomplishments so that the usability discipline can come closer to being—dare I say it—a science?
In the article published in Interactions (November/December 2006, pp.61-62), I proposed that there can be different levels of research that can be beneficial for different purposes in various contexts. In that article I was referring to HCI research, but the article is highly relevant to usability research as well. Broadly speaking, usability research can be viewed as a four-tiered structure, with each tier corresponding to a different type of research. The articles we have seen in JUS in its first five years correspond to the first three tiers: examining usability of a given product, exploring/comparing various products and contextual impact on usability, and deriving guidelines that can be applied to other designs. We have yet to see articles that belong to the fourth tier. In case you did not read that article in Interactions, the fourth tier is deriving theoretical implications to better understand human behavior with interactive systems.
Our challenge is to also have research that addresses theoretical issues. Such research will not only answer questions such as “does it work?” or “when, where, compared to what does it work?” or “how should it work with other similar designs, contexts, and systems?” Such research will answer the question “Why does it work?” It will transcend specific products and systems and will allow generalizations and transfer across various products and circumstances. That is a challenge we are faced with.
From a grassroots usability research gap to a collection of about 60 peer reviewed articles and 20 invited editorials we have come a long way together. This accomplishment could never be the work of one person. I would like to thank Whitney Quesenbery for her huge support in establishing JUS, Kerry Green who was the UPA Director of Publications when JUS started, and Susan Dray who took on that role and continued with her enthusiastic support. We have a fantastic editorial board consisting of dear colleagues who were with us for five years (even though we originally agreed on a two year term), and many of them still continue. There is a long list of researchers, practitioners, and anonymous reviewers that is too long to list here. The quality of the journal would not be as high without them. Thank you all for sharing and participating.
Joe and Marilyn, as the incoming co-editors in chief, I know you will bring JUS to new heights and accomplishments. Thank you for carrying on.