When Institutionalizing usability, it’s critical that 5 user-centered design principles be developed and adhered to.
I was recently reading HFI’s white paper on Digital User Experience Strategies, and I came across an interesting sidebar that captured my attention. In this sidebar the Author, Jarome Nadel, discusses the 5 critical user-centered design principles an Enterprise must have in order to facilitate a digital user experience strategy.
I found the side note interesting, because I believe it accurately and simply explains what it takes to have an Enterprise-wide user-centered design methodology. Take away any of these 5 principles, and institutionalizing usability will not happen.
Here then are the 5 user-centered design principles mentioned in the sidebar, and my comments about each:
1. Executive Support for Usability:
Simply put, an executive champion is critical to institutionalizing user-centered design. Anyone who’s worked in a large company can tell you horror stories about “silos.” Each silo (aka business unit) owner must make decisions that either improves the unit’s revenue, or decreases expenses.
For example, many years ago (pre-Twitter or WordPress if you can believe that!) when I worked at a very large health care company here in the U.S., the Senior Vice President of Individual insurance had vastly different goals than the SVP of Large Group, or of Senior. Their ultimate goals were the same, 15% increase in profit, but their methods for achieving their goals were vastly different.
Because of this, institutionalizing a single overarching set of resources and standards, to promote a unified strategy for user-centered design, could not happen. A project that was mission-critical to Individual, say for example an easy to use online health insurance quote form, was not at all needed or necessary for Large Group, which for example might have needed an easy to use group administrator dashboard.
Without executive support to bring resources and standards to help each unit, based on a set of overarching user-centered design standards and a unified design strategy, the units were left to themselves and could make design decisions in a vacuum, sans Enterprise design strategy and standards.
For that company, this silo strategy was the preferred method of operation and worked well, as witnessed by years of steady business growth. However not all companies can use such a philosophy, and it should be noted that in this new Customer-empowered web 2.0 world chinks will show in the armor. Say for example customers transition from one supporting business unit to another, or wish to use the same applications no matter how they contact the company (phone, web, cell-phone, etc).
With more and more empowered digital customers connecting to an enterprise using multiple channels, and expecting a single and unified customer experience, the Enterprise strategy for user-centered design and standards becomes ever more important, as does the need for a executive champion.
2. User-Centered Design Process
The process the Enterprise sets in place to achieve a comprehensive user-centered design methodology is critical.
This user-centered process includes;
- Creation and maintenance of all digital assets
- Development and adjustment of an overall user-centered design strategy
- Conducting on-going primary and secondary research into customer Personas and needs
- Mandating usability testing throughout the development process, at key points along the way
- Validating designs post launch, with a master set of customer experience and usability metrics that track performance over time.
- Feedback loops to provide key learnings back into the business and technology units (I added this one. Remember that old feedback arrow from that ancient Dinosaur “Continuous Quality Improvement?” It still works!).
As is so well put by the white paper:
“When business units run their digital operations in the same way, usability variances are essentially eliminated and efficiencies are optimized.”
I’m reminded of a funny story. Again, at that large health insurance company a long time ago, we invited Dr. Eric Schaffer (of Human Factors International, Inc. fame) to provide an executive consultation to senior executives regarding the best way to develop a corporate eCommerce design strategy. Eric was discussing standards, when one of the executives raised their hand and asked,
“So, how many standards should there be? Should we have one standard for internal-facing applications and a separate set of standards for external-facing applications?”
Eric stopped, gathered his thoughts for a few seconds and then said in a quiet voice,
“Well, if you have multiple standards, then you really don’t have a Standard, do you?”
The room was dead quiet for several heartbeats as the pure and simple logic of this statement drilled into everyone around the big table. The meeting continued, but the point was brilliantly driven home. A single set of design standards is one of the easiest ways for an enterprise to ensure a good and consistent user experience, while reducing the expense of design and development teams “re-creating the wheel.”
4. Usability Maturity
Usability can actually be a competitive advantage for a company. All else being equal, an enterprise that has a fully mature usability set of standards and design principles will be producing applications more efficiently, and more effectively.
The improved customer satisfaction received over time by these more usable applications will begin to help move that enterprise above competitors who approach design and development with ad-hoc, or worse, cross-purpose user-centered designs.
Usability becomes the lever that moves the usability-mature enterprise above all competition, and keeps it there. The rest have to play catch-up.
5. Usability Metrics and Modeling
One of the top 12 useful usability books I recommended was “Web Analytics: An Hour a Day.” Why? Because it’s the smart usability practitioner that constantly analyzes metrics coming from web sites or applications. This provides three benefits:
First – Analyzing metrics helps determine the usability “health” of the web site or application. Sudden changes in metrics will call out a potential problem that has occurred. Knowing the best and worst performing pages or tasks will also help prioritize where usability resources should be applied.
Second – The rest of the enterprise speaks metrics. By speaking the language of the rest of the enterprise, the smart usability practitioner is actively involved in business discussions, and can proactively contribute to discussions of how to improve results, by applying usability.
Third – The usability and related user experience metrics will over time provide enough data with which to conduct modeling. Keeping a storehouse of knowledge, learnings and best practices will also prove useful as potential new designs are applied in models. The point is to leverage the massive amounts of usability and related metrics to help build smarter design processes and create efficiencies over time.
The 5 enterprise user-centered design principles
I believe that there’s a lot of information in that one little side bar in the HFI white paper! I think the enterprise that incorporates all 5 user-centered design principles has much better chance of being the enterprise that rises above the competition.
As more and more people move into the web 2.0 world, and use their individual voices to communicate with an enterprise in multiple channels, it becomes more and more critical for an enterprise to offer a consistent and satisfying user experience across all touch-points.
You can download and read the free HFI white-paper: “Digital User Experience Strategy: A roadmap for the post-web 2.0 world“
Dr. Eric Schaffer’s book about institutionalizing usability: “Institutionalization of Usability: A Step-by-Step Guide“