Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Five Reasons Why You Can't Ignore Usability

I’m always interested in finding ways to reach new customers and keep the one’s I have happy through my website or blog. One way to do this is to make sure my website and blog adhere to tried and true usability standards.

I always learn something new each time I find an article or blog post on the subject of usability. I’m not perfect and I haven’t applied every tip and trick I’ve encountered. One thing you find as you begin to focus more on usability, it’s an ongoing process.

Recently I found this blog post discussing usability as it relates to websites, mostly e-commerce sites. I encourage you to read the post, but I thought I’d take the same five points and adapt them to a reader who may be in the business of designing and developing software and web applications.

Here we go:

  1. You just can’t afford not to – the user experience is what keeps your end-users engaged and continuing to use your applications. If it doesn’t meet their needs or is difficult to use they’ll find something else to replace it.
  2. The user experience is more important than your brand or pricing – the most popular software companies in the world can make all the software they want and sell it for a good price, but if it doesn’t meet the needs of the end-user they will likely reject it. I don’t want to name names, but your company name, your pricing and distribution strategy has very little to do with how your application will be received by your target audience. It’s about meeting needs and helping people accomplish tasks to their expectations.
  3. Gain a competitive advantage – usable software and web applications have a greater loyalty among end-users. In the e-commerce world this is identified as conversion rates and repeat customers.
  4. Focus on the standards – stick to usability standards outlined by organizations like W3C or ISO. When standards are employed, end-users encountering your software or web applications know what to expect and can grasp key concepts quickly.
  5. You are already spending on design – why not continue the process? Business needs change as well as the processes that are part of the business. You’ll likely make changes to your application so budget accordingly. Focus on the usability of the application first and the design & aesthetics second.

As I said, usability is an ongoing process. If you make the commitment to usability now, changes you make to improve your software and web application in the near future will be minor compared to monumental changes if you had not focused on usability at all.

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