Free usability advice? Just say No!


Free usability advice? Just say No!

I would say on average I receive about 3 or 4 requests per week for free usability advice of one form or another, to which I always respond with Nancy Reagan’s sage advice –

Just say “No.”

Just say no to free usability advice photo by Lara604 via Flickr Creative Commons License

Of course, the requests don’t come to me asking specifically for “free usability advice” like some cold-calling salesperson harassing me with a phone call just as I sit down to dinner.

No, these requests are all over the place; everything from an email from a company that has the latest wiz-bang online usability testing application to end all online usability testing applications, to people asking me what the correct way to set up an online bill-pay form is, to the several twitter DMs a week asking me if I can “have a quick look at our website and just let us know what you think of our usability.”

Do you really want to know what I think of your usability?

Great! I’ll tell you exactly what I think of your usability! Just pay me for the several hours of reviewing and testing tasks I do on your website, followed up by the several hours of saving screenshots and documenting findings and creating a PowerPoint that I work on, followed up by the hour or two of analysis of what’s wrong that I ponder, followed-up by the hour or two of research I do for optimizations that could be used to improve your situation including mocking-up examples of what a few good options for improving it look like, followed up by the hour or two I spend with you on a call or online meeting providing you with all my free usability advice.

Get a clue, usability is work, and most people (including you!) get paid for work

So, if you’re one of those silly dopey dumb misguided individuals who’s asking for “free usability advice” because “it’ll only take a minute and gosh, won’t you feel good about helping me out?” get a clue. It’s lots of work to conduct a proper usability review, and last time I checked you (and I) expect to be paid for work.

Those pesky mortgage and utility companies keep insisting on it.

Three ways to get free usability advice

So here are few tips if you are seeking free usability advice. By the way, this advice is totally free so you can thank me later for all the free advice I’m providing you as a service, you’ll return the favor, right?

  1. Pay me for your free usability advice – Okay, technically it’s not free, but this one’s really easy; just go ahead and pay me for the time I spend in providing you with your free usability advice. What? You don’t have any money to give me? Hmmm, just how important did you say usability and user-centric design was to your website again?
  2. Trade something equally valuable – This one is also easy, as I’m going to be spending quite a few hours giving you free usability advice, so why don’t you give me quite a few hours of free business/CPA/Lawyer advice in exchange? I could use quite a few hours of your or your lawyer’s or CPA’s time, it would help me out with my business. That’s a fair trade, right? And by the way, wouldn’t that make you feel good to know you were helping me out?
  3. Pay me with something other than money – Gosh, you have a shoe web site, that’s great! I (well, my wife actually) could use a couple hundred of your free products, or perhaps you could just provide me with a thousand dollar Starbucks gift card (what? – I like coffee!) for all my free usability advice.

Why free usability advice is not a good idea

Let’s get serious for a minute, free usability advice is actually not a good idea. Here’s why:

  1. You get what you pay for – You ever heard that old saying “there’s no such thing as a free lunch?” Well, the same is true for usability. The reality is; it takes effort, time and expertise to provide usability advice. Just having a quick glance, or seeing what usability standards you’re breaking (guess what, there’s no such thing as a complete set of standard global website usability rules that can be applied to all websites because no two websites, or groups of Personas, are exactly the same) takes time and a fair amount of work. Anybody who’s willing to give you advice without understanding the basics of; who’s your Personas, what critical tasks are they trying to accomplish, where in the task flow are potential errors or speed bumps, what can you do about them to optimize them, what accessibility or other issues might you face? Well, you get the idea. Free advice is worth what you paid for it.
  2. It takes time to analyze usability – It actually takes many hours to do a full and complete review of usability on a web site. Just having a quick glance is doing you, your website visitors, and the investors who’ve paid hard-earned money for your business and site, a disservice. You wouldn’t want your tax guy to just have a “quick glance” at your taxes, would you?
  3. Not all usability experts are experts – Here’s a no-brainer, asking any Tom, Dick or Harry for usability advice is not a good idea. Education, training and experience will be required to properly diagnose your website usability issues. The odds are, real usability experts are very busy conducting usability testing and providing advice to their clients, and getting well-paid for their efforts. Be prepared to pay for experience and expertise, if someone’s willing to give it to you for free, are they really experts, and should you really trust them?

What to do if you are asked for free usability advice

So, let’s say you are a usability professional and you’ve just been asked to provide free usability advice. What should you do? Here’s a hint…

Just say NO! (Nancy Reagan would be so proud!)

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‘Nuff said