Usability: where customers are always right

There’s something to be said about the above picture (credit: Guy Kawasaki) featuring Sir Richard Branson of Virgin fame himself polishing the shoe of legendary venture capitalist and Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki in Moscow. The premise behind this very informative photo? According to Guy Kawasaki himself…

Richard Branson is speaking before me. He asks me if I ever fly Virgin; I admit that I never have. He asks me to try it. I say to him:  “If Richard Branson asks me, I guess I have to.� He then gets on his knees and starts polishing my shoes with his jacket in order to convince me.

Sir Richard Branson knows what it takes to appeal to his customers. He’ll make sure that their needs are met and they’ll be glad that they’ve flown again on Virgin Airways or used any of his brand’s products.

This can be related equally towards site and application usability. Often times when we scope out the details and the specifications on how we want it to behave, I’m betting that a majority, if not all, of the time, you don’t conduct any user testing or research to see what the user behavior would be when using your software or site. If you think that a search engine should be hidden below the fold, that’s your perception, but unless you’re the only person using the site, then that’s a faulty perception. Yes, you are developing it, but the audience is using it because you found a niche that needs to be filled.

I’m not suggesting that you fix every single minor tweak here and there because you will not be able to satisfy every single user because their behavior is different. One area to begin to think about the user experience is during the information architecture part. Think from a standpoint what the expected path would be. Would it be 100% obvious that in order to get to the career information on your website, for example, you need to go into the About Us section or have you figured that they’d be able to know where it is in the Contact Us section? Don’t guess and please don’t make it difficult to find the information you’d like for them to find. Government websites are perhaps most notorious for having a lack of usability when it comes to navigating and getting the information you want.

Don’t make your users guess how things are supposed to work. Make it work for them! If there’s a submission form you want them to fill out, make sure they know how to get there and that it functions how they’d want it to be. Want to have all the phone numbers you recieve to conform to a specific format, then make sure the programming team knows that and forces a rule to let them know. Users will also want to know that the form has successfully been submitted and there information accepted. If it hasn’t, they want to know why. Don’t just have the page refresh and their information remain on the site with no explanation.

If you’re creating an application, then give the user some relief by allowing them to contact a generic email address to vent their frustration or offer feedback, criticism, or ask for assistance if they can’t understand it. Simply releasing something out into the world wide web isn’t going to cut it anymore. Users don’t like the “sink or swim” mentality. Show them that you care about their needs and monitor the site behavior.

If people are leaving your site quickly, then you need to find out why. Take some surveys or have a focus group. If you’re truly testing for usability, then aim your effort at bringing in your target demographic audience to run through the site using set scenarios and have them offer you their suggestions. That’s it…they’re merely suggestions. Take them or leave them, but at least you’re listening to them. They’re always right when they know there’s a problem.

Photo credit: Guy Kawasaki

By Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a journalist fascinated with the stories of the tech industry and internet culture. He's currently the Technology Editor at Flipboard, where he observes what's happening in the space while also identifying new topics of interest. In addition, he co-hosts the weekly internet show "The Created Economy," which focuses on what's happening to creators and influencers. Previously, he was a reporter for VentureBeat and The Next Web, covering tech startups, the industry's innovations and funding. Ken also has a newsletter you should also subscribe to called "Filed."