Seeing as today is World Usability Day, what better time to talk about usability

First, what is World Usability Day? Taken from the World Usability Day website, they define it as:

“A single day of events occurring around the world that brings together communities of professional, industrial, educational, citizen, and government groups for our common objective: to ensure that the services and products important to life are easier to access and simpler to use. It is about celebrating the strides we have made in creating usable products and educating the masses about how usability impacts our daily lives. It is about making our world work better. It is about reaching out to the common citizen and spreading the message: We don’t have to put up with products and services that don’t work well and that human error is a misnomer.”

Or put simply: “No-one should have to suffer through products and services that get in their way. People should not be made to feel stupid by technology.”

As an executive this is incredibly important because, from a business standpoint, if your customers can’t use your product they won’t buy it. Worse, not only will they not recommend it to their friends or colleagues, they can actively work against you through reviews, social media, and word of mouth.

But first – what is usability anyways?

What is Usability

The term “usability” was first applied in 1916 during WWI in regards to weapon assembly. Later on in 1936, usability was featured as a main attraction for a refrigerator.

Nielsen Norman Group defines usability as: “A quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use. The word ‘usability’ also refers to methods for improving ease-of-use during the design process.”

Improving the ease of use during the design cycle is done through usability testing. This is when companies gather participants that either are their customers or are representative of them, ask them to perform key tasks on a website or prototype, and gather usability metrics as well as behavioral and attitudinal data. This data is analyzed and typically used to make design iterations based on problem areas that were discovered in the testing.

Why Usability Matters for Executives

What does any of this have to do with executives? Short answer: practically everything.

I’ve said this before in my previous article, but an executive’s essential business function is to make their company more profitable. Imagine that by implementing usability testing you could increase your company’s revenue by millions of dollars a year. Don’t believe me?

In Jared Spool’s book “The $300 Million Button” he leveraged user research and data analytics to help executives understand the problem of abandoned shopping carts on an ecommerce site and showed how a simple design change in the checkout process can have a huge, clear and measurable impact on your business.

For them it was to the tune of $300M a year, and while this won’t be the case with every company, it still stands that there are money-costing issues that can be prevented through usability testing during the design phase of a product or website. Just in case there was still any doubt left, according to the Design Value Index by the Design Management Institute (DMI), “Design-driven companies outperform the S&P 500 by 219%.”

This is why I believe every executive should be concerned with conducting usability testing and is what I set out to do when we created UserZoom a decade ago – enable companies to conduct more, and better, usability testing. In fact, I strongly recommend executives actually participate in the research themselves! This can be done in many ways, such as collaborating with the UX Research team in defining a UX strategy or reviewing the results to understand the impact of good usability to the bottom line.

World Usability Day and Accessibility

The theme for this year’s World Usability Day is inclusion through user experience, and creating technology and products that work for everyone through accessibility testing. I love this, and this is something we also feel strongly about here at UserZoom.

So much so that earlier this year we partnered with a new panel supplier called AccessWorks that offers people with disabilities who will test your website using the think-out-loud methodology. AccessWorks is maintained by Knowbility, Inc., a nonprofit advocate for people with disabilities and industry leader in accessible technology.

For Executives who often have to justify their business decisions with dollars and sense – Fortune magazine estimates that in the US alone people with disabilities spend a trillion dollars each year, and more than $200 billion of that is discretionary income. Companies can increase their online outreach to this market by integrating accessible design principles into their development process and be prepared for bonus benefits.

We believe that by including users with disabilities in your testing you will learn a lot about your site, plus you will know that you are helping to ensure access for all people. Finally, it’s not just the right thing to do, it’s also flat out good business! The benefits of making a website accessible using the W3C standards, actually benefit people who are fortunate to not have disabilities. Also, it addresses the financial benefits of increased website use, for example, from engine optimization (SEO). 

Conclusion

There you have it, my thoughts on why usability should matter to executives. A final thing to keep in mind, apart from business profits, is that many of us are also end-users of our own products. By investing in usability testing we are often making our own lives, and the lives of our friends and families, better as well.

Happy & Accessible World Usability Day everyone!