Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The top 8 mistakes in usability (and companies investing in it)

Usability mistakes we should avoid ...

"I recently gave a talk to a company that is beginning to invest more in the customer experience of its website. They wanted to know: how do we avoid the errors of other teams making this investment? There are lots of gurus, blogs, and trade groups, all promoting their own tools and methods - usability, user experience, interaction design, information architecture, and so on. The team knows that they want "better usability" but aren't sure about the next step.

And this company is growing fast, so a lot is at stake in them getting it right. If they build the right processes in-house (or hire consultants that offer them), they'll reap the rewards.

I told them that when committing to customer-centered development (of a product, service, website, or whatever), it's important to stay strategic, always try to improve the business, and listen to customers (as human beings, not as users of a tool).

But in doing so, avoid the following:

1. Not conducting any customer research.

Some companies still don't conduct customer research, but instead rely on their best internal guesses as to what their customers want. Except in organizations where ESP is a common employee skill, this tends not to lead to healthy, customer-centered operations.

2. Conducting "pretend" research.

Let's pretend our user's name is Jane. Let's pretend she is 38 years old, drives a purple Prius, reads mystery novels, loves bulldogs, and likes to go sailing. Let's pretend she comes to our website and likes feature A but not feature B. Therefore, we should develop more things like feature A. See? We're very customer-centered.

This is the fun of creating a persona, which allows teams to make decisions based on fictional people, rather than doing the hard work of listening to real customers. (Yes, I'm being provocative; yes, personas can be useful in some cases - see more in this post.)

3. Conducting research, but the wrong type.

One of the most popular research methods in business today is the focus group: an individual moderator, typically a high-energy person, encourages a live panel of many respondents to give feedback on a product or service. This can be useful in some situations. But where customers interact individually with a company - say, on a website or in some other customer experience - the one-to-many method of focus groups doesn't yield very appropriate findings.

4. Conducting one-on-one research, but with tasks defined beforehand.

Traditional usability dictates that the moderator should write the test questions beforehand. But how can you know the right questions to ask before you've even met the customer? Task definition comes from the age of software, when the tool - a piece of software - was being optimized (thus the term "usability" refers to - and focuses on - a tool, not a human). Customer experience is concerned with the customer; their individual, real-life experience is what we're supposed to be observing. It's beyond presumptuous to think you can predict the appropriate tasks before the session starts. (Read more in this column.)"    (Continued via Good Experience)    [Usability Resources]


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