You only really notice the usability of a product when it’s not there. It’s very easy to come up with examples of poor usability, but for the most part, people don’t usually know the reasons for why one product is easy to use, and one is difficult and frustrating to use. Well, it doesn’t happen by accident! Most of the great products out there that we enjoy using have been through intensive user experience design and usability testing.
Here’s our ten most common reasons for why a product has poor usability:
1) Too much focus on features and technology
Many projects start off with project leaders and stakeholders having a strong desire to use latest technology or to develop a product with endless features. Feature development and testing are given a high priority and will often have a dedicated technical team responsible for them. The projects which go wrong are the ones that fail to balance these features against what users really need. Instead user requirements are an afterthought thrown in towards the end of development when much of the interface has already been developed.
2) Designers and developers ‘scratch their own itch’
In absence of any contact with real end users, designers and developers have no option than to use their own experiences as a guide. They end up designing the system according to their own capabilities, understanding and beliefs. Often they will be so deep into the project that they rarely question their decisions. If it works for the way they would use it, then that is good enough.
3) No-one has considered what people really need to use the interface for
It’s easy to get caught up in the detail of a project and immerse yourself in the complexities of how to make a product work well. Sometimes, a project team can be so focused on the inner workings of the system that they fail to step back and question their design decisions from a user perspective. Understanding what users really need, and what situations they are likely to be in when they use the product can completely change the direction of the design.
4) The person with the final say has little or no interface design experience
Often, we will come across a competent and well meaning project leader responsible for the end product who has to make the call on how the product looks and operates. More often than not, this person has little or no experience of user interface design and unwittingly makes decisions without fully considering the impact on the users.
5) Too much focus on quantitative measurement
When a website is doing well, you’ll hear the project team talking about numbers. The number of unique visits, the number of conversions, the number of page views and so on. Unfortunately, the usability of a product or website is not so easily measured. Whilst project teams may know they have a problem with basket abandonment, or low page views on key pages of the site, they rarely understand why users behave the way they do which is key to understanding how to improve usability to fix the issue.
Do you recognise any of these most common reasons for poor usability?
Related service: Usability Testing
About Damian Rees
Damian has worked as a usability and user experience consultant for over 13 years. He has worked in senior roles within companies like the BBC and National Air Traffic Services where he has researched and designed for users in a variety of different contexts including web applications, voice recognition, and air traffic control interfaces. Follow Damian on twitter @damianrees