Return to: GROK Dot Com 9/15/2000

Beyond Usability
Usability. Big buzz word these days, and if you ask me, it’s about time! It’s just amazing how many sites get it wrong, and by how much - and that includes new sites going up every day. If you plan to succeed out there, you gotta pay attention to usability, and there’s a TON of great info out there now (so shame on the people who keep ignoring it).

After being neglected for years, suddenly people are talking about it like they’ve found the Holy Grail or something. It’s become the latest new tune on the block, “Get usability right and all your e-commerce problems are over.” Hate to break it to ya, but usability is not the end; it's simply a big step in the right direction. Usability by itself only reduces your customers’ frustration level. That’s important, of course, but still a far cry from guiding your customers into doing what they want to do and you want them to do: buying. Try getting Usability to say, “May I take your order?" or, “What colors do you prefer?” or, “Would you like to use VISA or MasterCard?”

For all the stuff on “usability this” and “usability that” these days, it actually it isn't all that easy to find a definition of usability out there. I guess some writers think we're just supposed to know what it means. Internet Business Network does offer a definition. Succinctly, "Usability means ease of use." Connecting Online offers a more value-laden meaning: "the quality of enabling your users' productivity." To be sure, Connecting Online understands the online business world's general confusion when it comes to usability:

Many businesses today look at Web site usability like a foreign object that crash-landed from outer space into their backyards [hey, lots of great things come from outer space! -The Grok]. They've poked and prodded at it, trying to figure out just what it is. Most businesses aren't accustomed to adapting their communications to how their audiences interact with them.ii

Make your website easy for your visitors to use, and they'll become more proficient users. But if you want them to become customers, you have to think beyond usability. Think of it like taking a road trip. Usability gets rid of the obstacles to driving: the potholes, the bad signage, the dead ends. It makes it easy for your customers to go places comfortably, smoothly, with minimal interruption, but it can't intrinsically tell them where they ought to be going much less how to get to where they want to go in the quickest, easiest way.

You don't just want your customers to take any road. You want them focused on a destination: buying. And you want them to take the road that leads them to, and through, buying what they want in a way that is not only quick and easy but also comfortable and delightful. To accomplish this, you not only have to remove the obstacles, you must also guide, encourage, persuade, influence and motivate your customers in a specific direction. That you accomplish through Information Architecture, layout, choice and function of graphics and icons, applying your understanding of consumer psychology, embodying a systematic selling process into your site design, remembering AIDAS (see our archives), and at least as important, choosing powerful and compelling words. Your web copy matters a whole lot more, and your web graphics matter a whole lot less, than most designers and developers would have you believe.

So do your usability stuff, and do it well. But you can’t stop there or your customers will cruise around easily but aimlessly, until they finally leave. You still have to do one more thing: sell them!

i Internet Business Network, <http://www.interbiznet.com/capabilities/form.html>
ii "The Future Just Ain't What it Used to Be: Innovation and Usability." Connecting Online, <http://www.connectingonline.com/articles/980617a.html>.

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Return to: GROK Dot Com 9/15/2000

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