Dangers of Ignoring Usability

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Dangers of Ignoring Usability

The concept of usability incorporates a very broad area. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defines usability as: “The extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, treat efficiency, recipe and satisfaction in a specified context of use. The word ‘usability’ also refers to methods for improving ease-of-use during the design process.”

In this article I focus on some methods for improving ease-of-use during the design process. Over the years I have worked with many customers, ailment in both large- and small-sized businesses. But I’ve come to learn is that the size of the organization isn’t as important as the emphasis on the usability aspect of their software development. This spans all development methodologies from the Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC), AGILE or Waterfall. So often an organization just wants to get something out the door to say “I’m done!” But even though their websites or applications may be visually appealing, what good is it really if it can’t be used effectively by the customer?

A prime example of this was an intranet site I worked on where the customer didn’t want to spend the time and effort gathering requirements from the end users. The company had a mandated timeline and they stated that “our users should just search for it and find what they are looking for in the search results”. What this company failed to recognize was that most employees didn’t use the search field as the company had intended. Intranets in general have a long history of unreliable search capabilities, and most employees had given up on using the search feature long ago. So this company launched their intranet site and found their usage statistics were extremely low, but they couldn’t determine why. Initially they blamed it on inadequate training. It turns out they spent thousands of dollars on development and content migration but had not invested in speaking to the users to learn exactly how they use the site in their day to day activities. This company a very expensive lesson the hard way.

When assigned to this project my first course of action was to hold a series of workshops to identify the various scenarios of work the employees were engaged in. I worked with internal personnel who provided me a list of users across different levels, geographies and age demographics. While age may be a discriminating factor in hiring and firing employees, it is definitely not in the realm of usability. Different age groups consume and use technology very differently. I cannot overstate how important it is to take this into consideration when designing for optimal usability. The workshops I conducted uncovered a few key revelations:

  1. Users overall didn’t trust the search
  2. Older users were more comfortable navigating to what they are looking for
  3. The “hunt and peck” mentality is widespread
  4. The launch of the new intranet was not publicized properly

The first two components were very easily uncovered within a 15-minute conversation. The third  component, while not directly solved in the workshops, would definitely have given the participants knowledge that this new intranet site was going to be launched. My advice is never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth, especially in a large organization where emails and announcements typically get buried.

This is just one of many examples I’ve seen where companies can lose sight of the importance and value of usability. Creatage can help your company review and test the usability of your current website. We will apply our expertise in usability to help design a new or improved website. Contact us for more information, we’re here to help!

Written by on March 25, 2014

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