4 Reasons Your Product Needs to be Usable

The infamous Blue Screen of DeathImage by andrewbain

Why would anyone plan on making their product unusable? Still, so many companies are guilty of it. From unyielding packaging to tiny instructional text, unusable things exist all around us. With that said, in this post I will detail four reasons that should deter you from committing a usability sin.

The Reasons

  1. You’ll lose business.

    Sometimes the truth hurts. In essence, it appears that this seems to be the nail in the coffin for some retail chains. Websites like www.theconsumerist.com highlight emotionally-charged stories from angry consumers frustrated at retail stores. Enough is enough.

    It’s no wonder that Consumer Reports reported a year ago that people would have an easier time finding a good deal on the digital camera they wanted online (among other gifts), rather than drive to their local mall. How can businesses compete? Online stores give you convenience, cost less to maintain, and give you the ability to read reviews and share your experience. Online shopping elevates the retail experience.

    So my question to retail chains is: what gives? You have the tools at your disposal to make local shopping infinitely more pleasurable. There are tons of ways to cut costs and keep customers satisfied. Why has it taken so long for companies to catch up? Why does Borders still charge up to 50% more than the cost of a book on Amazon?

    The bottom line: if your business or product makes things easier and more efficient for people, customers will be buying it in droves.

  2. Your message will become mixed

    Nothing hurts a brand worse than damaging trust. When a potential customer is taking a look at your product or service, they are making all sorts of judgments (some of them subconscious) of your work. Why was the logo clickable on this page but not on that one? Why is there an advertisement taking over my webpage? How do they expect me to click that if it’s moving? Who do these guys think they are?

    Indeed, who do you think you are, really? If you’re a professional web-development firm, then present yourself as such. If your product or service is designed to help me find things, then enable me: let me tell you what I’m looking for and let’s move on.

    Never forget that your primary purpose in designing interactions is to help the user accomplish something. It may seem like something you would never forget, but I can’t begin to count the number of times I have visited a website, poked around, clicked a couple of links, and left in confusion. Don’t let your flashy graphics, unique styles, or wild verbiage get in the the way of your message. Be short and to the point. The primary purpose of design is to communicate what you do, who you do it for, and then help users do it.

  3. You will have to address the wrong problems

    Blank Slate is a UI Pattern that increases Usability
    Blank slates give the user an impression of how the system will look once it is filled with data.

    If your product has lackluster documentation, you’ll be stuck answering questions via comments, forums, or some other medium. By then, things have already deteriorated. If a customer is having to ask for help, they are letting you know of two distinct (but related) problems: a frustrated customer, and a less-than-usable product. Think about it this way: if a website or service is easy-to-use and intuitive, you’ll save time and money. For this reason, companies like 37 Signals include things like “blank slates.”

    Blank slates are just one tool to get users up-to-speed on how your product operates. If you’re in a position to design a user’s interaction of your site, consider providing documentation within the product’s interface – things like instructional videos, helpful tool-tips, and blank slates will make your product speak for itself.

  4. You’ll become Microsoft

    Yes, I said it. But then again, who wouldn’t want to be a company with the kind of clout Microsoft has?

    But think about how Microsoft has fumbled over the past couple of years. With products like the Zune, Windows Mobile, and Windows Vista, Microsoft has hit a brick wall. What’s more, these walls are in market segments they would easily have dominated years ago. The brand of Microsoft will forever be tainted by these blunders.

    Apple has demonstrated that they have the upper hand in Interaction Design, User Experience and Industrial Design.

    Further still, Microsoft’s biggest competitor, Apple, has demonstrated that they have the upper hand in Interaction Design, User Experience and Industrial Design. Think about the various ways Apple is sitting pretty right now with unprecedented success: iPhone, iTunes, iPod, and Mac. However, if you look at each of these products, you’ll see great attention to the details that make user experiences better–from the moment you unwrap your iPhone, you’ll fall in love with it.

Conclusion

There are many more reasons than this to pay attention to the human aspect of your projects. I know I’m not alone in feeling frustrated by poorly designed interfaces. Sometimes messing up something as simple as a login form is enough to lose my business. But that’s my opinion. What do you think are the consequences of poor interaction design?

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Comments

  1. On #2, I find the following axiom helpful when when creating copy for sites: “Say what you mean and mean what you say.”

  2. I agree, I never really thought that it would be a problem. If you make a product, one would assume it would be usable. Thanks for pointing out such an absurdity. Hopefully companies will take your advice, but who knows.

  3. For internal systems the cost of bad usability is efficiency. Not just the time spent trying to use the system but the time taken establishing workarounds and the business risk of those workarounds.

  4. I would add that you can *never* underestimate the value of user testing. Getting your product in front of 10 people will teach you 20 obvious (and sometimes quick and easy) improvements you can make. We did that at Smartsheet.com and were impressed at the impact a few tweaks can have on the overall experience.

  5. Great article!

    Making a useable product builds a strong reputation for a brand, and therefore increases sales. I like the last one. Compared to Microsoft, Apple has done an excellent job building their rep by making good and useable products.

  6. @Matt: I agree completely. Apple won me over only a couple of years ago, but I’ve never looked back. They’re products are just so fun.

    @Cola: We think the same thing. Our Panel loves reviewing sites and getting the site’s author involved in the process. It’s a whole different game when people are commenting on work you’ve done yourself.

    @David Hamill: I think you hit the nail on the head. One of the firms I contract with uses this same logic as their quintessential value-add for their customers.

    @Nikki – Logo Design Guru: Well. Most online-savvy companies have to sink or swim nowadays. Unfortunately, local retail shops can feign ignorance for a little while longer.

    @Rachel Nabors: Steve Krug says: Cut out half of the words of your copy, and then do it again. I’ve never actually dont that, though :P

  7. Bob Saggett December 31, 2008

    With you up until number four which feels like cheap MS-bashing. It is easy to do but lowers the tone of your post.

    Microsoft are market leaders for a reason. Most people that use Vista think it is great. It is a vocal minority or those that gave up at beta stage that tend to be against it.

    My 75 year old mother thinks Vista is the bees knees.

  8. @Bob Saggett: Finally! Someone else who seems to enjoy Vista! I always feel so lonely online being a Windows guy myself.

  9. @Bob Saggett: That may be the case, but fumbles catch up. My point isn’t to bash Microsoft out of left field but to give credit where credit is due. Apple has done a great job over the years. Now that the spotlight is on Apple v Microsoft, more people are noticing. I’m convinced that Apple heralds usability while Microsoft plays catchup.

  10. @Bob Saggett: Props for using ‘bees knees’ :D.

    Awesome feedback on this thread!

  11. @Matthew Kammerer:
    I agree with @Bob Saggett, the article is fine until you reach #4 which reads more like an Apple Fanboi bashing M$ for being a me too company for the past little while.

  12. @SeanJA: Now I don’t think Andrew’s intent is to bash Microsoft. He does love his Macs, but he also tries to be fair when the Mac vs. PC arguments arise.

    I use both on a daily basis. I consider myself more of a PC person myself. Like I said above, I’m a happy Vista user. Saying all these things, I can also accept Andrew’s argument here. Microsoft is fumbling in a battle for a new market where Apple seems to have an upper hand. If anything, I think that Microsoft can appreciate people being vocal about what is wrong with their products so that they can enhance future software.

  13. Yeah, that’s totally correct. Thank you. Here in Russia we’ve got a big big lack of UI designers, even in big corporations. And that’s not only about websites… A poorly designed TOC could mess up an entire book!

  14. I have to disagree with you on MSFT fumbling with Vista and the Zune. Both are very solid products that I have been using since they were available, Vista while still in Beta. Yah Apple got their MP3 player to market earlier, but so what from what I hear from iPod friends I am glad I have a Zune. Vista just gets a lot of undeserved bad press just because. Those stupid MAC – PC commercials are just garbage. As for mobile that I would not be able to comment on since I am still a mobile dark age person, I hate talking on the phone!

  15. Very nice, you blog is amazing and post is great.

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