If you haven’t already incorporated usability into your product design process, you might wonder why it is necessary. After all, it’s certainly possible to release a working, bug-free product without performing any usability work at all. But incorporating user-centered design principles can lead to a much-improved product in several areas.
First, usability testing is of critical importance for reducing the number of support calls from users. Poor usability is a major reason why users call software technical support lines, and every software industry executive knows how expensive product support can be. In addition, charging users for support increases their potential dissatisfaction with the product. If users find it easy to use your product, they will not need to call for technical support as often.
Second, incorporating usability tests is an important part of the development process to reduce training costs, especially for software produced for in-house use. A highly usable product is much easier for users to learn than others where usability was not a high priority. Users learn features more quickly, retain their knowledge longer, and are more productive: which directly correlates to decreased training costs and higher efficiency.
Third, usability testing improves user acceptance. Acceptance is the culmination of a number of factors, including usability, utility, and likability. For retail products, user acceptance often directly correlates to repeat buying and customer loyalty, which means users are more likely to recommend the product to others. For internal applications, user acceptance correlates to a willingness to use the software to perform the tasks for which it was designed, which helps increase productivity. Increasing usability is one of the factors that can contribute to increased user acceptance and satisfaction.
Many clients contact us once their product is ready to be published. They start panicking because they didn’t conduct testing and want to get quick feedback before their product goes to market. There are many issues with waiting until the end of the design process to start usability testing; however, the largest is cost.
Software designers and project managers often worry that initiating a user-centered design process and performing proper usability testing will require unacceptable amounts of time and money. The reality is that the cost in time and money spent focusing on your users is often relatively small, and certainly when compared to the cost of not doing so. Research has shown that problems are exponentially more expensive to fix the later in the development process they are found: fixing a problem in the concept stage is much cheaper than fixing a problem late in design, which is much cheaper than fixing a problem once a product has launched.
Consider, for example, the cost in time and money of making design revisions late in the development cycle as opposed to earlier, when the product is still in the planning stage. If you wait until the beta period to expose users to the product for purposes of usability testing, you may find yourself dismantling parts of the program that took a lot of time to develop. And waiting until the product is actually released and then making changes based on negative feedback or supporting a poor design could make the cost immeasurably higher due to high product-support costs or poor reception by users.
A reasonable usability study usually can be performed in a short period of time, and can greatly reduce the time and cost of making changes late in the development cycle. The cost of performing testing will vary depending on the nature of your product and the parts of the interface that you would like to test. When executed properly, usability studies can fit well with a large variety of development methods, including iterative and agile design methods. Various usability tests can fit well on projects that require both quick feedback on particular design features, and longitudinal data that informs design throughout the development process.
You can think of usability testing just like you do code testing. Successful project managers account for testing and quality assurance when planning out a project. They don’t see it as something extra that must be tacked on to the project schedule and budget. Rather, project managers accept code testing as a cost of doing business because the alternative is much more expensive and results in an inferior product. The same applies to usability testing.
Usability can help differentiate your products from those of your competitors. If two products are substantially equal in utility, the product with higher usability will probably be regarded as superior.
Finally, remember that every product gets tested for usability—eventually. Users perform usability testing on your product every time they use it, and they render their verdict through their continued use or lack thereof. By testing the product before releasing it to market, you can help ensure that users’ experiences with the product will be positive.