In the offline world, software with a long list of features sells better than software whose box has a lot of blank space. But on the Internet, the number of features is less important. Online, web site usability is a selling point potentially equal to (or at times beyond) the features a site provides.
The recent jump in demand for usability services has been partly fueled by negative press about the “un-user-friendliness” of some prominent Web sites. More than one of my clients has expressed concern about appearing unfavorably in The Wall Street Journal.
These clients know that their web sites must be easy to use, but they don’t know what that entails. And because of this, they worry that they may not effectively monitor the design group. These tips should help.
Before the project begins
- Understand your audience.
Understanding your audience will not only give the selected vendor a head start; it also provides a vital foundation for system requirements, which influences every area of the system
- Develop a solid set of requirements.
Your perceived need is the foundation for your system requirements. To maximize the probability that your need will be met, develop requirements that go beyond the features list, and explicitly require the achievement of specific goals.
- Develop a quality RFP.
Your RFP must contain sufficient information for a consultant to develop a proposal that meets your needs. Make sure to include success criteria, information about your target audience, and time/budget constraints.
- Select the right vendor.
There are many points to consider, such as whether an agency has a dedicated usability group, a proven track record, and a customer centered methodology that fits your needs.
Executing the project
- Develop a user-centered project plan.
Ensure usability begins up front and continues throughout the lifecycle; arrange dependencies and project tasks so that usability drives the process as appropriate. Build iteration into the plan, and be careful not to begin development of any underlying technology until the usability group has completed at least the first iteration of design.
- Provide ongoing support.
The right environment can make a big difference in the success of your project. Ensure that usability experts have all necessary customer information, and assist in recruiting for usability tests as needed.
- Watch for red flags.
Common problems include developers who feel like the usability group is making their job harder, or graphic designers who feel that their territory is being invaded. Management can help lessen these problems by placing value on the user experience and helping to keep roles distinct.