The Real Cost of UsabilityThe other day I read an article on that really resonated with me. The article stated that one of the reasons that the current perceptions of IT performance by executives is so low is because IT doesn’t understand the value of usability. As a usability buff, I heard myself shouting out loud, YES!

The article also states that most IT departments will buy a system without identifying the business needs or the problems that such a system needs to solve. I think this is particularly the case with content management systems. IT will purchase a system based on the bells and whistles, without regard to its usability or lack thereof, and just hand it over to the business to fill with content.

The article then goes on to say that IT is also obsessed with cost savings, and that they have little concept of value. I tend to agree with this as well, although I think this isn’t only a problem restricted to IT; but rather one of organizations in general. I think a lot of people don’t understand just how much time and effort goes into making an application usable, and they don’t see the corresponding value that it will bring; only that it’s costing so much to implement.

I write a lot about usability as it pertains to Microsoft SharePoint, and although the usability story does get better with each new version of SharePoint, it still has its challenges. These minor issues can easily be rectified with some out-of-the-box enhancements to the user interface, either by a power user or a SharePoint front end developer, but that takes time and effort. And that time and effort is not free.

I’ve had several clients actually call me up to tell me that the solution I designed for them in SharePoint is so easy to use, that they don’t even need to think about what they’re doing. Then they thank me for making their jobs easier.

So what is the real cost of usability? Instead of only looking at it from the perspective of the actual cost (the amount of time that it takes to survey users, see where their pain points are, and adjust the UI to address those pain points), we should also be looking at the sunk costs. In other words, if people aren’t using the application because it isn’t usable, then the application just sits there being unused, and all the money you’ve spent on that application is money thrown out the window. I’m willing to bet that’s a lot more than the cost it would have taken to make the application more user-friendly in the first place.

Remember, applications that lack usability will fail, and usability doesn’t come free. One of the biggest keys to user adoption in my opinion is to focus on usability from the start, and don’t obsess about how much it costs. Because you’re likely to lose a lot more than that if you don’t.

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