The term usability has suffered from an image problem that grows worse as time goes on while the demand for the work increases.
Try selling a methodology that has no strict standards conformance, is practiced a million different ways to Sunday, and has no concrete end product other than hope. When a CEO demands to know what possible good a usability audit will provide, the answer is not a sure thing because for starters, the action items have to be completed first.
And there as many of them as there are stars in the sky. Fortunately, there are strategies in place like Agile and Lean, or good old heuristics and cognitive walkthroughs with a dash of user testing. The scope of a usability project always starts with a plan and ends with more plans. Why?
Because a product, website or software application is never finished. It isn’t even about the fast pace of technology and the need to keep up with it to stay ahead of competitors. This is, however, as far as many companies bother to look. The CEO with investors dreams of being ahead of the pack but for most of them, once they come up with a new idea, 10 other top brands have already developed and marketed it. Never forget the dot.com crash.
Every innovation results in changes and consequences that were not expected. Facebook, in its inception, never planned on how it would make a mark in human society because there was no way of knowing how the Facebook experiment would work. It could not be tested before launch. Amazon burst into its own planet by making online purchasing easy for everyone. To do this, they reinvent themselves constantly. I can’t think of any other online business that works so hard to be the place that customers WANT to go first when looking for great deals. They nailed desire. Their website is busy as hell but who cares? They know what we want to buy, what we are willing to pay, and how to create the need to return for more.
This is not usability. It is not customer experience, or conversions or user experience or any of the other terms used to make website that work. This is YOUsability -the ability of a company to know you, your desires, your impulses, your loves, your habits, your devices, your dreams and your needs.
Usability is Not Ability for Everyone
There is no usability methodology that I am aware of that can prepare a company to do business with you, though by golly they do try. They design and test how you react. They create user personas and mental models. They hire user testing with people who may never use your site and get eye tracking and gaze studies to determine where some people look on a page and where they click. They track research and data to make business decisions. They scope out every nook and cranny of a plan that is locked into a business requirements document – an exercise that in reality is more than likely completely ignored. Most companies refuse to pay for any of what I just mentioned. They don’t see the return on this investment.
They don’t see the relationship between what they want to produce and its place among the masses of people they hope will use it. It’s as if you don’t exist but they are making something for some of you anyway. Every company I enter into a contract with has no interest in building a product that everyone can use. It would cost them too much. They narrow it down to:
First time user
Specific user categories like B2B, B2C
These are users.
The usability industry has been attempting to define itself for as long as I can remember (which for me would be 14 years). How do we use one word to define a mish-mish of solutions all attempting to assist with one central problem? Why did we drop the “Email the webmaster” link that existed in website footers in the 1990’s so we could find out what was not working?
You Are Not Part of the Plan
My husband and I recently moved into a new house in a new development. We bought early, grabbing a prime lot. All we had to look at were house plans and a map of the finished development of 90 homes. One day I asked our saleswoman if she could give me an idea of what our neighbors were like. She was not allowed to divulge that information but said it was diverse and she knew us enough to know we would be happy with the mixture of young families, retired people and those in-between. For us, there was no way to know in advance what the actual flavor of the neighborhood would be like, or what our relationship to it might be.
Your website, software and product are mapped out but your customers don’t know each other. You don’t know them either. They could create something together that you never ever dreamed possible. That companies are not willing to even invest in considering this is contributing to their failure.
Examining the experience beyond the whiteboard is not tangible so it is not considered. For all the hype about being “experience” oriented, the fact is that your experience is unknown and you are out of the loop because you don’t exist. You are a user. A piece of data.
It can cost millions to build a website product that does not work for the people who really need it. Healthcare.gov comes to mind. Clearly, running a successful website is no easy endeavor. There is never enough information to predict the outcome. But a company has to start somewhere and you can tell those that will invest in usability, user experience, customer experience, performance testing, software testing, information architecture, persuasive design, conversions, information architecture, user interface, user personas, user testing, gaze and click tracking, eye tracking, remote testing, focus groups, findability, accessibility, readability, searchability, human factors, and neuroscience vs those what will not spend a dime on anything but marketing strategies.
Convincing stakeholders to invest in usability is like asking them to purchase a who-done-it mystery novel. They are not interested in the adventure of the journey.
We need to find a way to convince them to open the book.