What is usability and by the way, I’m busy, why should I care?

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A real-life usability issue on my block. Evergreen Av. and Jefferson St. in Bushwick, Brooklyn

Usability is the ease of use and learnability of a human-made object. The astounding thing is it doesn’t just apply to that new vowel-bereft iPhone app or website. It applies to many different areas of our lives. From the arrow on the door that tells you to use the entrance around the corner, the design of lines you wait in at a clothing store, to the exit sign on the highway that’s incorrectly placed and sadly causes a fatal bus accident.

All of these things are designed and usability is critical to their success.

When it comes to mobile apps and websites, properly optimized usability can mean the difference between head-over-heels love for the product or torches and pitchforks after a bad design. Experiencing this first hand and having to deal with the fallout, I can tell you, is very humbling.

But how does a company ensure that they’re building something that’s intuitive and usable? The answer is testing.

Testing, testing, testing.

At first blush it may seem like a diversion of resources from product development but the thing to consider, the thing that really must hit home, is what the company is going to spend on developer hours after they realize the product doesn’t meet its users’ (read:customers’) needs.

I can’t stress the importance of that last sentence enough. If you calculate what a couple of mornings per month cost versus having to conceptualize, redesign and build even moderate changes to an application or website (let alone an actual redesign), it becomes clear that spending a few hours upstream is a more cost-effective use of time and resources.

And what about the cost to growth after the product has gone live? With new products especially, but certainly for more established products as well, frustrating your users is tantamount to saying, “We don’t really care about your happiness with the product. You should check out our competitor.” This is not to say that the stakeholders in the design don’t actually care, but this is the perception of the user.

If it’s broken they bounce.

Additionally, most companies don’t have the luxury of making these kinds of mistakes. The Internet is fickle and even the most original ideas are quickly joined by competitors trying to be faster, cheaper and more enjoyable.

All of this boils down to the fact that regardless of your company’s size or what you’re trying to build, you’re putting in too much time and working too hard not to be certain that your product is headed in the right direction.

Test, my friends. Test.