Monday, February 22, 2010

The User Always Wins, or The False Tradeoff Between UX and ROI

A few days ago I said to a discouraged colleague, "the user always wins." She said, "not this time--when they made the decision to prioritize business needs over user needs, the users lost."

But I stick to my assertion. When all is said and done, the user wins all arguments, because the user makes the ultimate decisions that drive business value.
  • Users decide whether or not to buy
  • Users decide whether or not to recommend you
  • Users decide whether or not to return
  • Users determine your brand
So ignoring user needs for the sake of ROI is the ultimate false tradeoff. It's sometimes possible to gain some short-term ROI this way, but in the long run, it's the users who will determine your success or failure. If you only look as far as next week or next month, it may look like ROI can be achieved at the expense of the user experience. But if you look out to the long term viability of your business, it's a fool's bargain. ROI and user experience are forever intertwined.

Business value derives from, and is usually dependent on, a great user experience. When all is said and done, the user always wins.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

False Tradeoffs - Time to Market

We were scheduled to go live in just 4 more weeks. When we finally did serious usability testing, we found out the application was barely usable. Users didn't understand the paradigm we were using, couldn't find their way around, and were generally frustrated with the whole experience. When we described what we were trying to give them, the loved it--they just couldn't use the product we had designed.

So naturally we delayed the go-live date several weeks to give us time to fix the usability issues.

Hah! That'll be the day!

We went live, celebrated the launch, and then spent the next couple of years training our customer service reps to respond to complaints while we built the next round of products. Last I checked we were hoping to fix the problem "in an upcoming release tbd."

It will be a watershed day when we do actually delay a go-live date in order to fix a usability problem. It will be a sign that we've finally figured out how to get the fastest return on investment.

I contend that the faster we rush to market with poor UX, the longer it will take us to get our money's worth out of the product. The easiest time to fix a user experience and fix it fast is before going live. Certainly it's important, critical even, to optimize the experience once the product is live, but basic usability problems in a production environment take a whole lot longer to fix than the same problems before going live. Before going live, there's a magic combination of:
  • a focused team, deeply familiar with the product
  • an intensity in the drive to completion that this product will most likely will never see again
  • few or no encumbrances related to an existing user base already familiar with a flawed product
Use this combination to drive solutions prior to going live, even at the "cost" of delaying. I put "cost" in quotations, because of the fundamental premise of user-centered design:
Principle #1: Business value derives from, and is usually dependent on, a great user experience.
This all leads to...
Principle #2: Rushing to go live with a deeply flawed product delays the release of a user experience that will produce the business value we're funded to produce.
That's what makes the UX vs. time-to-market argument a false tradeoff. One sign of a maturing organization is a willingness to delay go-live in order to fix a bad user experience.

Of course, a sign of an even more mature organization is to never have to act on that willingness, because we never get close to our go-live date before discovering and fixing the user experience. So that brings us to...
Principle #3: The way to make "Principle #2" moot is to deeply engage with users from the very beginning.