The Business Case for Usability

I have been thinking about the reasons why usability is valuable to an organization. Why should a business invest a bunch of time and money into testing and designing systems? I don’t see a lot of discussion of this among designers but it seems like we should be able to articulate our value to others better than we do. How do you explain to a manager or a client that doesn’t understand that spending two days doing job shadowing that it is not just you sitting around for two days? How do you convince them that getting real users to test a system is need in addition to the user personas that you created?

I have seen a number of articles discussing how to calculate the ROI on usability. But that really isn’t the obstacle that I see as most pressing. I think that a lack of awareness and understanding of what usability designers (or whatever title you prefer) do is the big problem. A common response from those first encountering the idea of usability is ‘okay, let’s tell the developers to make it more usable’. It takes a lot of detailed explanation to convey why that isn’t really the way things work.

So do we sit people down one at a time and walk them through the many fields of study that come into play and the understanding of testing methods, design techniques, coding standards, and other things that go into our jobs? How do you convey the value of usability efficiently?

The truth is that I’m still trying to sort this one out. I understand, after spending inordinate amounts of time on the subject of usability over the last few years how and why it is valuable. But I think I’ve spent so much time getting into so many details that I’ve lost sight of how to explain the big picture, that I accepted long ago, in a way that others can grasp quickly.

Perhaps it is something as simple as ‘I test and design systems so that they will be simple and intuitive to use while retaining their functionality and usefulness’. How do you explain usability?

Kevin Hall
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