The UX of Social Media

Investigations into the social media user experience

How much would that be without the usability part?

Recently I was asked to prepare a written estimate to upgrade the usability of a software product. I had spoken to several of the company principals, who assured me that usability was the central problem they must overcome to be competitive and secure key customers.

So I spent half a day looking at their software, and wrote up my estimate.

Being a user experience designer, I naturally gravitated to such activities as talking to users and integrating their evaluations of the product before, during, and after the rebuild. The tasks included heuristic evaluation, initial usability testing, revised flow models, key flow prototypes, visual design, usability testing of builds, final usability and acceptance testing, and normalized scoring of the finished package to provide a baseline for future projects.

The response I got was classic:  “How much would that cost without the usability testing?”

This goes back to one of my earlier rants, the conflict of features and usability. Features always win, because you can see them. Usability is assumed, like breathing, and is just as hard to explain. But if anyone still wonders how Apple, for example, managed to secure such customer loyalty in the early years, it comes down to that single idea:  they thought about their users and created tools that were easily understood and easily used.

Investing in good usability makes sense only when the time horizon is far beyond the next quarterly report or the next board meeting. Usability is not a quick hit that will produce instant gains. Usability is part of corporate good will, the customer loyalty, and these are not things that an ad campaign can bring in six months. Usability thinking will be in the DNA of the next wave of companies that reach the heights of Amazon, Ebay, Google, Yahoo, and Netflix. Those companies made a science of customer relationships and did not let up when they were successful. Customer experience growing from positive user experience is one solid reason those companies are at the top today. Please see ibmdesign’s post on the ROI of usability.

And yes usability work does cost, and it does take time. But if you don’t have time now to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?

2 Responses to “How much would that be without the usability part?”

  1. Nice writing. You are on my RSS reader now so I can read more from you down the road.

    Allen Taylor


  2. Tom Mulhern

    Great piece, and one that all product managers and marketing managers should read. Usability has always been a feature, from the first stone tools to the GUI to the voice-recognizing software in computers. It should be transparent to the user, but opaque to those creating and selling it. Compare the early iPods and Apple’s iTunes with early competitors who are no longer around. The market “got” it, and it always will. Cutting corners at the front end, when it comes to designing in usability, will only come back to bite you.

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