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Usability – A competitive sport?

Tanya Goodin
Tanya Goodin
CEO
13 August 2007

It’s not a new Olympic sport (yet) but it is something that some brands have known for years…good usability sells products and it can be the element of your product (or website) that clearly differentiates you from your competition.

While in the US at the same time the iPhone was launching (in June), it occurred to me that this was a nice device but what truly differentiated from the other products on the market, many with most of the same functionality and, in some cases, better phone functionality, was that it was very easy to use. As an Apple product this is not surprising. Apple differentiates themselves by creating very usable and aesthetically pleasing products. So far, Apple has even been able to charge a premium based on the design of their products.

In the article "Market Maturity" the usability research company, User Interface Engineering (UIE), explain how products go through four stages of maturity. The four stages of maturity can be summarized as in the table below.

Stage 1:
Introduction

Stage 2:
Extension

Stage 3:
Utilisation

Stage 4:
Refinement

Key Differentiator

Innovation

Functionality

Usability

Price

Customer Behaviours

Customers are eager to experience the new product and are tolerant of imperfections and usability problems

Customers expect a fully operational product and will pick the one with the most features

Customers will expect advanced features and pick the product that is most simple to use

Customers will expect a flawless product and will pick the one at the lowest price

Focal Point of Development

Making the product work

Adding new features and fixing bugs

Making the product easy to use

Reducing cost of development and maintenance

There are other similar versions of this model that put the stages in a slightly different order (i.e., Stage 4 – Price slots in at Stage 2, making Functionality Stage 3 and Usability Stage 4) but I think that the essential message is the same, usability matters.

Most companies are reluctant to spend time and/or money on usability and Web agency consultants often still do not understand the benefits and ROI of usability. Many companies that do include usability work as part of their process do it after the development has been completed, which is the least favourable of the options of available. This is usually due to the fear that testing earlier will delay the launch of the project, but this does not need to be the case. In any case, Apple’s iphone is an example of “first to market” is not what is important, but rather “best to market”.

If getting in a debate about whether to take the time to usability test a product or website during design rather than late in development or after launch, consider this; it costs about ten times more to make change or redesign retrospectively.

- Kimberly Byers

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