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Saying Farewell to a UX Icon: Oracle bids adieu to Dr. Joe Dumas

Guest Author

By Sarah Smart, Applications User Experience

We’re sorry to report the doctor is out. Dr. Joe Dumas, aka “Dr. Usability,” retired from his consulting role with Oracle recently to pursue other projects.

As the “father of usability,” Dr. Dumas has worked with Lotus, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and Digital. His several books seek to demystify user experience methods. His 1993 book, "A Practical Guide to Usability Testing," is considered the Bible of user experience, and he has also authored dozens of articles on usability. He is the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Usability Studies, and in 2012 he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the User Experience Professionals Association.

Above: Oracle honored Dr. Dumas’ contributions to usability at a retirement luncheon. Photos by Rob Hernandez

He continues to teach and consult, and user experience experts the world over continue to find inspiration in his work. At Oracle, Dr. Dumas conducted the company’s very first research on the partner ecosystem and enabling partners to build well-designed solutions. 
When Oracle moved into the cloud, he continued that research helping to refine, tailor, and deliver a successful program teaching partners how to design and build their own simplfied UIs for the Cloud. “In industry terms, we call this PaaS4SaaS - or Platform-as-a-Service for Software-as-a-Service,” said Misha Vaughan, Senior Director, Oracle Applications User Experience.

Dr. Dumas joined Oracle’s team as a user interface consultant in 2000 after almost 20 years of user experience research and immediately made an impression on Jeremy Ashley, Group Vice President of the Oracle Applications User Experience (OAUX) team. “With usability, you don’t know if they’re going to be very serious or not,” he said, adding that he found Dr. Dumas to be dedicated, knowledgeable, and very funny and he heavily influenced his own management style. He educated (“never lectured,” Ashley stressed) and mentored key OAUX team members, who have succeeded within and outside of Oracle, including Vaughan. “My career has taken a very non-traditional path, but a path that has been very successful for Oracle,” she said. “Joe provided a sounding board for me each step along the way to make decisions that were innovative, where there was no roadmap, and where courage and creativity were required.”

Catherine Courage, Senior Vice President, Customer Experience at DocuSign, who met Dr. Dumas in the first year of her first job at Citrix, said, “My manager said, ‘I think Joe would be a great mentor.’ I thought, ‘Mentor? Why do I need a mentor?’ I quickly learned why.” Ashley said, “It wasn’t just the contribution of his deep knowledge; it was the approach and attitude he took to it as well.”

Misha Vaughan, Joe Dumas, Anna Wichansky, Jeremy Ashley

Above: Dr. Misha Vaughan, Dr. Dumas, Dr. Anna Wichansky and Group Vice President
Ashley pose for a photo at the luncheon.

He also exerted a guiding hand on former Oracle usability engineer Mick McGee, now CEO of EchoUser. “I aggressively charged forward [in usability testing] and was taken to task a bit to explain what I was doing,” he said. “… Out of that I was asked to talk to Joe about what I was doing and how it could be more pragmatically applied. Joe is a bit of a rebel himself who was/is constantly thinking of new usability methods, so we very quickly got along very well.” The two were involved in what they called the “Underground Research Team.” McGee said, “We used our user experience toolkit to experiment on ourselves, researching how we could better do research and design. … We worked on lots of fun new research and design techniques that I still utilize to this day.”

Some of Dr. Dumas’ other projects involved interviewing developers to understand the user experience design pattern requirements (available through the Usable Apps
website) and answering the question of whether a new user-interface design made its users more productive.
His calming, level influence came second only to his methodical approach to research: Getting the most accurate results depended on advance planning and being as gentle as possible with the experiment to avoid exerting his own will on the tests and their outcomes. “The attitude and approach will always have an effect on the result,” Ashley said.

Ashley described an early incident with the good doctor as putting everything into perspective. “He said, ‘The current results are what they are. Just because people don’t agree now doesn’t mean the outlook is bleak … You don’t have to be so reactionary. You have time to understand what’s important and what to do about it. Calm down, and stick to actual facts.’”
McGee echoed this admiration of Dr. Dumas’ character: “[He is] always easygoing, always able to quickly drive you toward the most important thoughts… I remember lots of conversations where Joe would listen, then say, ‘Well,’ and away we’d go,” McGee said.

“Any project, initiative, or idea that I brought to him always starts with a long pause while he considers the problem in front of him,” Vaughan said. “Then comes the zinger, the question or comment that he then puts in front of you that forces you to reconsider your assumptions or approach and make it 100% better. That insight, that perspective, and that approach are what I try to model my own approach on.” But Dr. Dumas did a fair amount of receiving input as well. “You've never met a better listener,” Courage said. “He's patient, calm and asks questions to help you solve your own problems.”

Joe and Martie
Dr. Joe Dumas, with
his longtime supporter, guidance counselor, problem-solver, and wife, Martie.

Dr. Dumas leaves lasting memories at Oracle of not just his work in the usability field but also his leadership and generous spirit. “He always had the attitude of a multiplier,” Ashley said. “The ‘Father of Usability’ may be a fun nickname, but there’s a whole lot of truth there,” McGee said. “But I think the bigger legacy of Joe is all the people he’s generously offered his time to throughout his career to make them better professionals and people. Every time I talk about Joe, I hear of someone else or some other time he helped someone in whatever they were doing or thinking about.” Courage said, “He has touched so many in our field directly or through his publications of editorial work. He is a pioneer in our field and certainly has earned the title ‘father of usability.’ ... He has helped shape, form and guide my career over the past decade and a half and I am forever grateful.”

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Comments ( 6 )
  • Dan Workman Tuesday, August 18, 2015

    It was my great privilege to have Joe on my team from 2000 to 2005. In looking back through some of my notes and email related to Joe, I found these interview notes from a then very junior usability engineer on our team: "He said, "You're the future." Anyway, nice guy; very smart. Asked lots of good questions. We could learn a lot from him, and at the same time he seems willing to learn from us. Even though he probably does, he

    doesn't have a "know it all" kind of attitude." I think this sums up Joe perfectly. Always encouraging. Always learning. Always teaching. Thank you, Joe.

  • Floyd Wednesday, August 19, 2015

    Best of luck to Joe in his new adventures. He will be missed!

  • Ultan O'Broin (Oracle Apps UX) Wednesday, August 19, 2015

    Joe, I don't; know if it's adieu or au revoir really (never say never), but it was AWESOME working with you, knowing you, and learning from you. I loved the work we did together such as exploring developers take on UX and design patterns (pioneering work IMO) and our little banter and book exchanges (I still have Steve Krug's "Rocket Surgery Made Easy" that you sent me). So, what can I say when I'm humbled by such a shining example?

    Go and enjoy that yoga! I'll guess I'll have to follow your lead on that one too!

  • guest Thursday, August 20, 2015

    Congratulations Joe.

  • Rally Pagulayan Tuesday, August 25, 2015

    I was incredibly lucky to have Joe as a co-worker during his first few years at Oracle. I could not have imagined a better situation having Joe right there as a sounding board and sage. Joe (and Martie) are simply, great people. I am so happy that I got to know them and wish them nothing but the best in the years to come.

    Congrats, Joe!!

    @Dan - I think those notes were mine!!

  • Aimee Richardson Thursday, August 27, 2015

    Wishing you the very best in your next endeavors. It was a pleasure to work with you.

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