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Alertbox: First Rule of Usability? Don't Listen to Users

Source: Alertbox, 17 August 2001

To design an easy-to-use interface, pay attention to what users do, not what they say. Self-reported claims are unreliable, as are user speculations about future behavior.

In past years, the greatest usability barrier was the preponderance of cool design. Most projects were ruled by usability opponents who preferred complexity over simplicity. As a result, billions of dollars were wasted on flashy designs that were difficult to use.

One of the main advantages of the "dot-bomb" downturn is that cool design has suffered a severe set back. Companies are now focused on the bottom line:

Public websites, which formerly focused on building awareness, now aim at making it easy for customers to do business.

Intranets are similarly refocused on improving employee productivity. Many companies are attempting to create order, impose design standards, and enhance navigation on previously chaotic intranets.

Happily, glamour-based design has lost and usability advocates have won the first and hardest victory: Companies are now paying attention to usability needs.

Unfortunately, winning a battle with usability opponents doesn't win the war with complexity. It simply moves us to a new front line: The battle is now to get companies to do usability right.

Alertbox full article