Beyond the Individual: Usability, Utility and Community

Susan McGregor, Assistant Director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism and Assistant Professor at Columbia Journalism School


When we conduct usability studies to assess our technologies, we typically work with groups of individuals in order to identify specific design choices that can be adjusted for improved performance. But the usability of a tool goes hand in hand with its utility, a characteristic that is often influenced by broader contexts, including participants' various community affiliations and their roles within them. By broadening our thinking about usability to include these larger social contexts, we can create technologies that are more usable in part because they are also genuinely more useful to the groups they were designed for. Drawing on published research as well her own work developing secure technologies and workflows for journalists, artists and activists, McGregor's talk will address the theory behind this approach to usability, as well as the practical methods and challenges to implementing it in original research contexts.

Susan McGregor, Columbia Journalism School

Susan McGregor is Assistant Director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism and Assistant Professor at Columbia Journalism School, where she helps supervise the dual-degree program in Journalism and Computer Science. She teaches primarily in areas of data journalism and information visualization, with research interests in information security, privacy, knowledge management, and alternative forms of digital distribution. McGregor was the Senior Programmer on the News Graphics team at the Wall Street Journal Online for four years before joining Columbia Journalism School in 2011.

McGregor was named a 2010 Gerald Loeb Award winner for her work on WSJ’s "What They Know" series, and a finalist for the Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Awards for Web Reporting in 2007. Her work has also been nominated for two Webby awards, in 2011 and 2015. She has published multiple papers in leading peer-reviewed security and privacy conferences on how these issues manifest in and impact the work of journalists. Her research and development work in this and related areas has received support from the National Science Foundation, the Knight Foundation, Google, and multiple schools and offices of Columbia University.

In addition to her technical and academic work, McGregor is actively interested in how the arts can help stimulate critical thinking and introduce new perspectives around technology issues, occasionally creating small prototypes and installations. She holds a master's degree in Educational Communication and Technology from NYU and a bachelor's degree in Interactive Information Design from Harvard University.

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@conference {219662,
author = {Susan McGregor},
title = {Beyond the Individual: Usability, Utility and Community},
year = {2018},
address = {Baltimore, MD},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug