“We do training so we don’t need to focus on usability,” ever hear that one? It always make me think, thank god you don’t make anything I have to use. Imagine if DVD players were built like that. Picture it on the shelf now. 100 buttons, half of them labeled, the other half aren’t. Next to it is a big sign, free 6 hour training webinar with purchase. Hey, can’t beat free training right? Of course next to it is a well designed DVD player with an implicitly understood user interface. It looks simple to use. And it should be, I want to watch a movie not problem solve for half the time it would take to watch said movie. Which one are you going to purchase?
Let just pretend I purchase this nightmare DVD player. First off, I can’t just use the DVD player because I have to schedule a time that my entire family is available for 6 hours for the training. Also, my wife and I have to schedule time off from doing things that make money to sit through what I am sure will be a riveting training session. After the training, no one will completely get it because of the complexity, so we all will have to also play with it for a couple more days before it starts to make sense. Now it’s hard to use, but we get it after a good month or two. But now, every time we want to watch a movie it takes around 25 steps to get it started. And since nothing is well labeled, we are also prone to making multiple mistakes. Often it’s so irritating that we often abandon the process and do something else. Now we resent the DVD player and typically only use it as a last resort. Using it just makes us angry.
Inefficiencies, wasted time, abandonment, and let’s not forget the negative branding experience are all very real problems that pursuing training over usability causes. If you look at the numbers you can really see your usability ROI at work. Say on a piece of software it takes 200 hours to design the application with usability best practices. First, the applied usability removes the need for training, (150 employees) x (6 hours) = (900 hours) of company time saved. But wait, there’s more. We also have optimized the application so that it takes 5 minutes less time per session, (150 employees) x (5 minutes) x (using the application 3 times a week) x (using the application for a modest 4 years) = (2400 hours) more time saved. That totals 3300 hours of saved time for a 200 hour investment. I am not even going to mention the time saved on support.
Usability in the B2B world should be expected, but all too many times training is the answer. For the companies that seriously focus on usability it can become a strong unique selling proposition. Like with our DVD players, in a side to side comparison, usability driven products will outshine anything that was created “broken” with the crutch of training to bridge the gap.