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2010 prediction

My seven controversial usability predictions for 2010

Flickr New Year Baby Photo via Skokie Public Library Creative Commons License
Flickr New Year Baby Photo via Skokie Public Library Creative Commons License

I have seven somewhat controversial usability predictions for the 2010 I think you might be surprised to read.  These predictions are based on my understanding of the state of the usability field based on blog posts, articles, tweets and all the other news and information I’ve picked up throughout the year. Whether you agree or disagree with these predictions, I think you’ll agree that in the past year we’ve seen plenty of change, and will continue to see increasing changes in our field in 2010.

1. The cost of conducting usability testing will decrease by a factor of 10.

As I mentioned in my article; 24 web site usability testing tools, I’ve noticed a recent significant increase in the number of low cost or free usability testing tools available. In 2009, several new, simple but effective tools have risen to prominence. Considering there are many additional new and easy-to-use tools being developed even as I type this, it seems reasonable to assume usability testing and analysis tools will be available in unprecedented numbers for amazingly low costs.

Anyone still renting a usability lab, going through expensive recruiting firms for participants, or using specialized rooms with one-way mirrors and multiple video cameras is wasting money – lots of money.

For a company that switches to low cost usability tools instead of renting a lab, this will decrease their usability testing costs by much greater than a factor of 10.  For companies already using these low cost tools, the incremental increase in use of the tools means many more usability reports and optimizations, at extremely low costs.

The year 2010 should see many more firms converting to these lower cost usability testing methods, and saving tremendous amounts of money doing so.

2. There will be a dramatic increase in the use of low cost web-based usability testing tools

In 2010, several new, cheap and powerful web-based usability testing tools will be launched.  This will have a positive impact on usability practitioners.  The positives include additional functionality at very low costs, a greater variety of types of tools for specific testing tasks, and anywhere, anytime access to tests and data.  All of which means a lot more people can and will be using these usability testing tools.

In the bad old days, usability testing tools were expensive hardware/software contraptions that were not easily accessible, portable or cheap. Because of the significant increase in these new low cost web-based tools, usability practitioners now have a much more usable set of tools with which to ply their trade.

There is a downside however, especially for vendors of the more traditional tools: the added competition of the new tools will force the older usability testing companies that have PC hardware/software solutions to change their products – or go out of business.  Increasing low-cost competition means less ability for these older companies to operate in a marginalized capacity. For 2010, the older vendors will need to re-think their products and pricing, or potentially face exiting the business.

The good news for usability practitioners is 2010 will be a banner year for new and exciting low cost web-based tools.

3. True usability ROI will continue to elude usability practitioners

True ROI, in terms of bottom-line numbers reported in annual reports and quarterly statements, will continue to elude the usability profession. The sad fact of the matter is most corporations do not realize usability is in fact a profit center.  As I mentioned in my ROI article, it’s not practical, or wise, to quote ROI guarantees for a usability project.  Typically usability improvements decrease overall costs, and increase revenue potential.  Yet from the conversations I’ve had with usability practitioners, the conversation always seems to come back to, “how do I ‘prove’ that adding more usability testing will bring a positive ROI?”

The on-going education of corporations by usability practitioners, Associations such as the UPA and educational institutions is the primary way to continue to make headway in obtaining usability advocates. Until someone can formally introduce a usability ROI metric that is used in annual reports and thus can be understood by the Wall Street crowd, many corporate executives will continue to believe true usability ROI is a myth.

For 2010, this trend of non-belief of usability ROI will continue to exist.

4. Use of remote moderated usability testing will increase by a factor of 10

As more and more usability practitioners use remote moderated usability testing, and talk about with their practitioner friends, use of this low-cost and effective testing method will explode.

In the past, tools like UserVue or video conferencing rooms were about it for practitioners who wished to conduct remote moderated testing and recording of usability sessions. But the increasing access to cheap and effective tools like WebEx, GotoMyPC and Webcams coupled with high-bandwidth internet access and conference calling has effectively eliminated the barrier to entry for practitioners.

Saving thousands of dollars in travel costs, and enabling testing of users literally around the world are powerful reasons why remote moderated testing will become the way to get things done in 2010.

In 2010, more and more usability practitioners will take the plunge and use remote moderated testing as their primary way to conduct usability testing.

5. The UK will become a major source of usability expertise

The United Kingdom and the European Union already are doing significant usability work – and have the smarts to prove it.  But have you noticed the amazing number of usability practitioner job openings in the United Kingdom, or the increasing number of usability projects occurring there and in the rest of the European Union in the past year?  I have.  And I’m not alone. Recognizing the significance of usability in the EU, for the first time ever the Usability Professionals Association International conference will be held outside North America, Munich, Germany to be precise.

I’ve also noted that there have been an incredible number of new job positions opened in 2009 for usability testers, information architects and user experience designers in the UK.  All these new positions mean lots and lots of usability work, and with that work comes knowledge and expertise.

I fully expect to start seeing many more UK and EU based brilliant usability practitioners providing their expertise to a host of small, mid-size and large companies.  I also expect to see many more usability projects and experiments, with resulting white papers, articles and blog posts demonstrating the expertise and thought-leadership resident there.

In 2010, the UK will dramatically increase the number of usability projects, and thought-leadership this provides.

6. The phrase ‘user experience design’ will become overused and almost meaningless

It’s amazing to see the number of job positions titled ‘user experience design’ in which it’s quite clear what the hiring manager is actually after is a graphics designer that knows css, flash and html, and can create wireframes, prototypes and final production files. In my humble opinion, and the opinion of others such as Nielsen, this is not a correct usage of the term ‘user experience.’

According to Nielsen/Norman Group’s definition of user experience

“”User experience” encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products. The first requirement for an exemplary user experience is to meet the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother. Next comes simplicity and elegance that produce products that are a joy to own, a joy to use. True user experience goes far beyond giving customers what they say they want, or providing checklist features. In order to achieve high-quality user experience in a company’s offerings there must be a seamless merging of the services of multiple disciplines, including engineering, marketing, graphical and industrial design, and interface design.”

Here then is the problem; the term ‘user experience design’ is more and more often not being used to reflect someone who creates all aspects of the user perceiving, learning and interacting with a company’s products and services. Instead, it’s being used to define a designer that only designs web interfaces, without the myriad other research, behavioral and usability knowledge that is needed to truly design a holistic user experience.

And because it’s over-used, and used incorrectly, the term ‘user experience design’ will become more and more generic, confusing and thus meaningless.  Will it continue to be used?  Yes!  But you can expect to hear many more conversations like, “So, you have a job position for user experience designer, I’d like to apply, but I need to know, what will this person actually do?”

For 2010, the term ‘user experience design’ will become abused and thus more meaningless as an actual description of true ‘user experience design.’

7. Without professional certification being required, more and more charlatans will be attracted to usability

Dentists, Pilots and Public Accountants all have to pass training and certification before practicing their occupation. However, with usability anyone can declare themselves a ‘usability professional’ and set up shop, providing usability services to unsuspecting clients.

Without some form of formal certification, anyone can (and will) provide usability testing services if they believe there’s money to be made, whether they know the difference between a card sort and a heuristic review, or not.  The same access you and I have to free and low-cost usability tools likewise means college students, stay at home moms and dads and even children can create usability services and sell them on the internet, using these same free or low-cost tools.

This isn’t a new topic of discussion, the UPA went down this path of investigating usability certification in 2001.

The only way to ensure a professional is providing usability services is to make usability a profession, via a certification process in which the practitioner has demonstrated the expertise and knowledge necessary to properly practice the art and science of usability.  Without this certification in place, anyone can and will declare themselves a usability vendor, if they believe there’s money in it.

For 2010, more and more fake usability practitioners will set up virtual shops, using the free or low cost usability testing tools now available.

Conclusion: My 7 controversial 2010 usability predictions

So there you are, my rather controversial predictions for usability in 2010.  Do you agree with them?  Do you disagree? Share your thoughts about my 2010 predictions, or better yet make your own by adding a comment! Only time will tell if you and I are right!