The customer is everything in the online experience. This seciton
of the site will be dedicated to the work I do when I am not travelling
around the world. But for now, it will have to remain somewhat empty.
Except for a thought on the usabiltiy Guru himself.
Going beyond usability
There once was a time when the interior design of a new flagship
car designed by a prestige manufacturer was based around kowtowing
to the managing director. Ensuring that he was comfortable was the
ultimate goal. It did not matter that, despite the formidable performance
and cutting edge aesthetic styling of the car, it was notoriously
uncomfortable to drive. The bucket seats were designed around a
six foot man with a larger than average girth.
Move forward, out of the sixties and into the nineties and we saw
the word ergonomics being used in automobile marketing. The interior
design of cars was becoming a selling point, and ensuring driver
comfort and safety was championed. And today, 'ergonomics' comes
as standard. It is assumed that the seat will be adjustable; that
the driving position will be designed for the 95th percentile of
drivers. For not to do so is to not only to sell an inferior product,
but also face the wrath of litigious salespeople who suffer muscloskeletal
disorders because of the poor design of their workspace- their car
Today car interiors are all about enhancing the experience of driving.
Starting with low-tech solutions such as heated seats, right through
to in-car guidance systems, ensuring driving pleasure is becoming
the goal. And so it will be with the design of interactive services.
We move beyond usefulness and functionality, usability will become
the norm, and we will start to design for pleasure.
Let us consider the evolution.
In designing interactive services the first question we must ask
is of the service itself. How useful is it? Does it fulfil a consumers
need, is it something that consumers want or will grow to want?
We then design the functionality; we identify the functional specifications
that allow the service to respond to the consumers needs. This is
where much design ends. It is fit for purpose, but little else.
It allows me to complete a task, but annoys and frustrates me in
the process. Many banking web sites come to mind. Functional, but
no joy to use.
Customers become used to functionality, yet this is not enough.
They now look for products that are easy to use. As I began to argue
in this article, ergonomics is very much a buzz-word in product
design. And in designing interactive services our clients are now
asking for Information Architecture to be a component of the project.
Usability is being taken seriously.
Once we become used to products that are easy to use, they become
the norm. Our satisfaction is not just about avoiding physical or
cognitive discomfort; it becomes much more. We look for a new dimension
in design, one of pleasure. What makes a web site memorable is not
so much it's usability, but how we relate to it on an emotional
level. Does it give us pleasure? Do we return because it engages
us, does it become a conversation amongst our peers?
And this is where the self styled usability guru Jakob Neilsen is
getting it wrong. In striving for usability he is forgetting the
personality -and pleasure- inherent in web design.
Jordan in his book "Designing Pleasurable Products" (2000:
Taylor and Francis) states it eloquently: "
based approaches are inherently limited. The reason why they are
limited is that usability -based approaches tend to look at products
as tools with which users complete tasks. However products art not
merely tools: they can be seen as living objects with which people
have relationships. Products are objects that can make people happy
or angry, proud or ashamed, secure or anxious. Products can empower,
infuriate or delight- they have personality".
Take a door as an example. A door is useful- it serves its purpose,
dividing two rooms. Put a handle on it and it becomes functional.
Put a label on it that says 'Ladies' and it becomes usable (i.e.
reduces errors, speaks the users language) But still it's a door.
Be creative, make the sign really explicit, use an image, colour,
make the door shout out its purpose and it makes me smile, I like
the look of that door. It becomes truly engaging. An engaging toilet
But I digress.
What does this mean for usability experts? I think for a start
we can spend more time listening to and learning from creative resources
from the design agencies we work with. It is easy to criticise their
designs for being too creative, forgetting about usability. But
we should harness their ideas, work alongside them to create designs
that really engage. We need to work on the information architecture
of sites, ensure the navigation, labelling and content schema are
intuitive and easy to use. And leave the Creative to produce pages
designs that challenge our thinking; that re-write the rules of
the inverted L of page design. Work alongside them providing input,
but rather than being prescriptive of the page architecture from
the outset, let them go create. Explore rich media if it is appropriate.
Push the boat out. And then start testing the ideas with customers,
with colleagues to develop page designs that are both engaging on
a pleasurable level as well as being usable.
In his recent alert box on DVD menu design, Neilsen criticises them
for their "fancy, animated complex menus" and "lack
of standardization". But this is what makes them so exciting.
They are an extension of the video experience. The pleasure of interactivity
would be diminished if they all had the same interface, the serendipity
would be lost.
The same goes for web design. In designing usable sites we should
remember that this should not preclude creativity. Understand who
the customers are, what their motivations, needs and expectations
are. Designing for a young 'wired' audience will allow a different
approach to designing for a less net-savy older audience. Design
around customer intentions and remember you can never design for
all. It is the accepted norm within human factors that products
should be designed so they for 95 percent of the people for whom
they are designed for. For products this may be related to anthropometrics,
in web site design it may be related to browser compatibility.
And one last thought. Can poor usability be good is pleasure is
in abundance? Designing an intentionally poor ergonomic experience
that has shocking usability can reinforce the total product experience.
To think of the automobile industry look at the Lotus Elise. And
think about what the customer wants. The Elise driver doesn't want
to be comfortable. He wants to feel every bump in the road, he wants
to feel the car's cockpit wrap around him. The discomfort is part
of the sports car experience. If he wanted comfort he would buy
a production line Ford.
So next time you are working with the client in drawing up the
functional requirements, designing the information architecture,
the taxonomies, the hierarchies, the site structure; creating the
GUI, producing page wire frames, creative mock-ups, paper storyboards
and high fidelity prototype, remember that the goal is as much creating
a quality product that gives pleasure as to ensure its functionality
and usability. And knowing what pleasure is depends upon knowing