Say it Again Sam, Don’t Pay it Again
The case for usably stated usability
User-centered Design is not brain surgery. Noted usability specialist Steve Krug summed it up best in his well-regarded usability bible “Don’t Make Me Think!,” the very title of which says it all as elegantly and eloquently as this website producer has ever heard it put. It’s not such a difficult concept. People want things to be easy. And that concept is at the very heart of user-centered design. “Make it easy for me. Don’t make me think. Life is hard enough already.”
Yet to peruse usability literature out there on the web, one might be forgiven for thinking that user-centered website design is indeed brain surgery. That, to my way of thinking, is a big part of the problem bringing clients on board as partners willing to commit to a course of action so clearly in their company’s own best interest. Call it a failure to communicate. Quite the interesting failure when you consider that this failure is one being committed over and over again by communication professionals.
Far too often, discussions of User-centered Design employ such industry-specific, emotionally affectless terminology as “navigation,” “information architecture,” and “”Section 508 compliant.” The net effect is to present User-Centered design as little more than the implementation of individual items on a checklist of discrete, disconnected components, rather than in a qualitative, unified manner that non-technically inclined business people might more readily connect with.On one hand, perhaps, all the technical mumbo-jumbo is “necessary.” It’s proof of expertise and a means by which to justify fair fees in an industry unfairly viewed as commoditized, no small thanks to ubiquitous out-of-the-can, out-of-the-box “Build a Website in 5 Minutes for $29.95” online offers. Still, such argot obscures rather than reveals. I’ve had highly placed, well-informed, highly educated executives ask me questions such as “Why do we have to pay to fix your bugs?” “What’s HTML,” and “What does interactive mean?” Communicating to your prospective clients your knowledge of Fitt’s Law, which states that the time required to move a pointer from rest to a given location is a function of proximity and size of the target, may well impress them, but it will do little to convince them why they should care, much less why they should be willing to pay more for your services.
When I was a producer at swandivedigital, we constantly struggled with that issue. How do you tell your clients this or that about their online presence, things they need to hear and really ought to address, in language they can understand, especially when they will have to spend more money in the near term to implement your recommendations? In essence, how do you make usability easy?
In response, we developed a user-centered approach that allowed us to quantitatively measure website efficacy in terms of five easily understood qualitative concepts: usefulness,ease-of-use, efficiency, engagement and trustworthiness. This paradigm served as a contextual framework that allowed us to make the easy-as-pie, gentle but forceful, point to prospective clients that a severe deficiency of any one of those five inseperably interdependent components will drive your target audience away. Simple as that.
If the site is not useful and serves no purpose for your visitors, they’re thinking “what’s the point?” and, *bang*, they’re going to be gone. It’s not easy to use? Your visitors can’t figure out where to find your products? “Well, hey, there are other sites out there that are simpler.” And this time the click elsewhere is so fast you can’t even rumple your stilsken. How about if the site doesn’t load quickly or properly, if it just doesn’t work? They’re thinking, “Oh, well, c’est la vie” and, boom-badda-bing, not even a chance to rumple.
And who can blame them? How about a case wherein the website is ugly and anything but engaging? Your site visitors are going to associate that negative perception with the brand and, as per Don Norman’s seminal essay “Emotion & Design: Attractive Thing Work Better,” they will likely have less patience working through any obstacles they encounter upon your site. The shopping basket doesn’t work? Forget about it. Nothing need be said, because your visitors are already thinking “I don’t trust you as far as I can throw you now.”
And sadly, once your site visitors leave for any one of the above-stated reasons, it’s a fact that there’s a good chance they won’t be coming back, at least not anytime soon. The choice is yours.
Take Excite, for example. That’s a portal that had and lost my loyalty somewhere along the way when I couldn’t access my email or personal page for about two weeks. I was a grudging convert to Yahoo, but I’m now a Yahooer all the same because I trust them. Pay now once or pay later again and again and again and again. To paraphrase and extend an old comedy aphorism, “Pay it once and it’s sad. Pay it a third time and it’s funny. On the fourth time, though? You’d better get serious”
The prospect of losing one’s market or audience, a prospect with grave bottom line implications, is never an exciting one, and understanding the ramifications of that, well, that’s not brain surgery either. So, whether our potential clients were companies selling products or services, or organizations selling a message, increasingly, they have at least been willing to listen.
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