13: Making Usability Happen

Krug often gets email from people who've read this book, and who are sold on the ideas it contains, but have trouble selling the concept to their own organization to make usability a priority. This last chapter addresses that problem.

Some Background Information

Krug speaks of the school of "user-centered design," which was transformative (for some firms) in getting them to place emphasis on the person using the device rather than the device itself. It's particularly a problem with technology, where developers tend to nerd out about the capabilities of the thing they are developing and completely forget that someone has to use it in order for those capabilities to deliver any benefit.

The phrase "user experience design" is popping up quite often, but that's a slightly different thing. UX design is about taking the needs of the user into account at every stage of every transaction - it includes not only using the gadget, but seeing advertisement for it, entering the store, calling for service, and all the other interactions. UC design focuses on the gadget itself.

On the bright side, usability has made some headway, mainly drive by Apple computer, whose Macintosh computer became popular because it was so easy to use - unlike other computers of the time, which required the user to read a thick manual to learn the commands for the basic functions. While their computers struggled to gain market share, their later devices such as the iPod and the iPhone made it so easy for the user to get the benefit of the device that they took the market by storm. That kind of financial success, based on usability, is reason enough for the accountants to pay attention.

One problem Krug sees is that UXD is often seen as a replacement for UCD - it seems so much broader, and takes on so many other transactions, that it often eclipses UCD. But UCD is at the heart of it all - if the gadget is not usable, it doesn't matter how easy it is to buy one or how friendly the tech support operator is.

Some Common Advice

The two must common bits of advice for selling management on anything are:

First, demonstrate the ROI. Talk about the increased revenue that will be gained by making a more usable product, compared to the cost of making it more usable. That works wonders. (EN: In particular, multivariate testing has been helpful in proving this out by doing side-by-side comparisons of how a more usable approach fares in comparison to a less usable one - though you generally have to start small and build up.)

Second, speak in their language. Find out whatever blogs and business books are making the rounds in the executive suite, and read them, so you can speak about "pain points" and "KPIs" or whatever the suits are talking about over lunch.

Krug regards these two things as being good advice, but it is difficult fro anyone who doesn't have an MBA to do either one of them. (EN: My solution was to get the MBA. It's really not that tough a degree.)

More Practical Advice

Some of the more practical things that he has done in dealing with office politics and the accounting mindset are:

Resist the Dark Side

Usability is about making it easier for a user to perform a task. It is not about making the user want to perform that task.

Krug mentions he's noticed a trend to misuse usability testing as market research: to attempt to use a small number of individuals in a lab to prove the worth of persuasive technology, emotional branding, neuro-marketing, and a number of other psychology-based marketing practices.

He does not dispute the value of these initiatives and mentions a couple of authors whom he thinks are quite good (EN: though there is a lot of junk science making the rounds right now, which often crowds out the valid techniques for leveraging psychology) - but merely state that usability tests are absolutely the wrong place to be tinkering with them.

His advice: "Just be aware that if people ask you to do any of this, it's not part of your job."

(EN: A better approach is to admit that usability tests are not effective for marketing research - they really do need a larger audience and should be developed using market research techniques and then ultimately, by observing behavior in champion-challenger, A-to-B, and multivariate tests in the production environment with real users doing real tasks.)