The U in Usability

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Usability is often confused with graphic design.  Clear, clean design can certainly aid usability – but isn’t the core.  Usability is essentially providing the most efficient way to accomplish a task once it has been taught.   Note the bold text.  Usability doesn’t mean absolutely intuitive – just efficient.  Take the iPod as an example of beautiful design and great usability.  Not intuitive.  Takes a few attempts to figure out various functions – no blinking lights or automated wizards to take you down a path – however, once you understand the functionality it is simple, easy, and fast.  So let’s assume you don’t design electronics or software for a living.  Why does it matter to you?

The same tools we apply to usability of software can be applied to any process.  Imagine you have an auto repair business, and each customer invoice takes an extra 2 minutes to complete due to extraneous boxes, non-sequential layout, unclear instructions and the like.  You have 2 customers an hour.  Thirty-two minutes a day of your time not billable.  One hundred and sixty minutes a week.  You have given up 6.5% of your revenue for one of your employees because of a form.   Take the next step – if this extra task is interaction with your customers – you are costing them time and money as well.  That is the perception your customer will have – that you are wasting their time.  Not the impression most of us would like to leave.

So what’s the solution?  A business analyst can assist with detailed evaluation of your data and mapping of your processes.  A great thing, and something Bright Beach Consulting can provide.  But that’s a longer term solution.  What can you do today, on your own?

 

  1. Only collect information that you can and will use.  There is a tendency to make complex forms – just in case.  In case of what?  Organ donation?  Building a team for the Zombie Apocalypse?  The information you need will vary based on your business.  Renting an apartment, finding a nanny for your kids – you want more data.  Retail services like a repair center, salon, 2 day clown college – not necessary to know very much about the customer.
  2. Think sequentially.  A great example of this is an address.  You wouldn’t ask for the Zip code first – that’s not how the customer stores or presents the information.  Yet, I’ve personally seen forms that require County before Zip.  Slows down the process – and is probably both unnecessary and redundant with the address and Zip.
  3. Group like items.  If you have to move up and down a form, or have more than 3 columns (boxes across) you are adding too much mental processing to the exercise.  If you want to save paper – focus on only collecting essential information, not adding boxes.
  4. Audit yourself.  Go look at the last 20 or 30 forms you’ve completed.  Where did text get crossed out or erased?  Where are the blanks – fields to eliminate.  Likewise – what extra information is written in Comments or across the page – you may need to redefine fields.
  5. Finally – Ask Why.  Inefficiencies are in every process.  The key to improvement is not accepting them, but beating them into submission.  Condition yourself to ask “why did I do that”?  You’ll find asking why drives more improvement than any other technique.

We would love to hear from you!  Did any of these techniques work well for your business?  Is there something we can do to help?  Comment on this article, or contact us.

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