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December 1996
This paper was presented at the CHI 96 conference in Vancouver.  It describes the structure that GUI Designers evolved with Reuters to address their requirements for distributing usability and customer centred design throughout their global organisation.

The Usability Group at Reuters: Virtually Global

Robin Heath
Creative Director
GUI Designers Ltd.
9 Murray Road, Berkhamsted
Hertfordshire HP4 1JD
United Kingdom
+44 (0)144 287 1069
Greg Garrison
Director - Usability Group
85 Fleet Street
London EC4P 4AJ
United Kingdom
(+44) 171 510 5297
Allison Jaynes
Cognitive Designer
Logica Inc.
32 Hartwell Ave.
Lexington, MA 02178
(+1) 617 476 8460

Copyright on this material is held by the authors.


In this organization overview we discuss the approach to Customer Centered Design taken by Reuters. We address the virtual team organization of the group and the benefits and challenges that it presents. We then present the globalization of usability and the techniques that Reuters has used to expand usability operations from London throughout the world. We end with a discussion of our performance thus far and a little about the future of The Usability Group at Reuters.


Organization overview, customer centered design, usability, globalization, virtual team, usability testing.


Reuters is the world's largest news agency and provider of information to the global financial markets. This information is brought to traders, analysts and others through Reuter applications which include market monitoring, analytical and transaction products. The increasing complexity of the financial markets during the 1980's generated demand for ever more sophisticated systems. Products needed to present large quantities of complex information in an immediately useful form.

Simply delivering data was no longer enough. Customers needed to be supported by powerful, integrated GUI products that were both easy to learn and efficient to use. This presented a challenge for the Reuter organization which has a de-centralized structure with product development groups spread throughout the world (New York, London, Paris, Geneva, Sydney. Hong Kong). Senior management recognized that Reuters required a change in not only the development process but also in its overall customer focus.


To address customers needs better, in 1993 Reuters introduced the Usability Initiative and created The Usability Group (TUG), in London. The group was charged with achieving a breakthrough in the usability of all Reuter products. The group's Director, Greg Garrison, required rapid access to a broad skill set which he knew would evolve over time. He set up a virtual team comprising himself, three senior Reuter managers, and an international group of consultants representing consultancies including Logica, GUI Designers, Microsoft Consulting Services and Admiral. The size of the virtual team now varies between 25 and 50 consultants representing roughly equal numbers of interface designers, prototypers, graphic designers, usability testers, and cognitive psychologists.

Benefits of the virtual team structure include the diversity of skills and approaches represented by its members, its international perspective, its ability to shift skill sets to match demand, and the political neutrality of its members.

Anticipated challenges were overcome. Potential rivalry between consultancies was resolved by a clear focus on projects and deliverables. Acceptance of TUG members within Reuters was ensured through their quality, specialized skills and market knowledge.


TUG delivers a range of products and services within the framework of a Customer Centered Design process that complements Reuters existing product life cycle. The process was developed within the group and consists of clearly defined activities including customer requirements gathering, high level design, visual design, prototyping and usability testing.

The Customer Centered Design philosophy and techniques are widely distributed throughout Reuters in both paper and electronic form. However, publishing documents is insufficient to cause the organizational changes that Reuters requires. TUG offers a range of products and services which allow us to actively introduce Customer Centered Design throughout the organization. These include:


A major goal of TUG is to implement Customer Centered Design on a global basis. This requirement is driven by the diversity of the products under development combined with the different geographic locations of the product teams and the differing requirements of local markets. To achieve globalization, two complementary programs have been implemented. These programs have been fitted into existing organizational structures to ease their adoption and remove the danger of adversely affecting existing product development.

Usability Satellite Operations

Usability Satellite Operations are based on TUG's structure, and comprise a Usability Testing Lab and a mixture of both Reuter and Consultant staff. They strengthen the Usability Initiative by providing in depth understanding of local markets and customer needs and benchmarking the performance of local products. Usability Satellite Operations are located in key financial markets including London, New York, Milan, Tokyo and Singapore.

Once established, they function autonomously providing TUG facilities for both regional and global products.

Champions Program

A network of champions has been formed. Champions are existing Reuter employees who have the desire and skills necessary to promote Customer Centered Design within their local organization. Two complementary groups of champions exist:

TUG supports champions through the provision of training and consultancy. Importantly, to build their identity as a group, and their commitment to Customer Centered Design we encourage direct communication between them through newsletters and e-mail/telephone directories. Currently, the Champions network consists of 50 people spread throughout Reuters.


During the last two years TUG has had an increasing impact on the usability of Reuter products. Over 500 customers have participated in Usability tests, the results of which have been fed back into product development. Re-designs of certain components have, in some cases, reduced the number of help desk queries by up to 70%.

We are increasingly being asked to contribute to the requirements and design process for new core product developments. Products will be usability tested by either TUG or a Usability Satellite Operation before being approved for launch.

We will continue to evolve the Customer Centered Design process and the globalization programs so as to increase the penetration of Customer Centered Design. Our experience to date leads us to believe that the combination of the Virtual Team structure, and Globalization programs will support this expansion while avoiding the traditional bottle necks associated with internally staffed centralized usability groups.


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