Blog

Design at the beginning of the process,

and then iteratively with the development. That is great. But how do you measure its success?

Measuring the success of design and usability

Measuring success of design and usability

How do you measure the success of something as subjective as design?

Things we are talking aboutPosted by Jonathan on 18 April 2011

Design and Usability is one of my favourite subjects. No question. Given the choice to talk about code, design or business, I will always choose … well, I will choose business. But design and usability comes a close second.

During my time in the web design industry, I have seen focusing on design and usability make a very significant difference to a number of clients, and I remain convinced that a number of companies make real mistakes in ignoring this element of system design. The problem is that many systems are not only developed by, but designed by geeks – design is often an afterthought and to over-complicate and lose focus on the things that matter.

Design needs resolving at the beginning of the process, and then iteratively in step with the development. It is no use putting design thought in at the end of a project and expecting that design to fit in with the exact specification created. The key is to open your project with a design workshop and make sure you have a creative brief. It sounds simple, and certainly doing a workshop is hardly rocket science, but done well, this essential stake in the ground means that your project gets off to a great start.

This is the case no matter how much you think design is important in the project you are working on – not just because it will make your product/site or whatever else it is you are working on look better, but because it will save you money – a well designed application will bring your support call volumes down, lift customer satisfaction, and make your product or website easier to develop in the future.

All that said, how do you benchmark the success of a design and usability program? How do you show that the money you have invested to improve your website or product (if it already existed) or invested in new website or application has been worth it?

The answer lies in three areas

  • Clear & solid benchmarking
  • Clear and focused objective setting before you or your consultants get started
  • A review down the line to review results and make adjustments

As an aside, if you are working with external consultants on your design and usability (measurement/benchmarking/project) one thing is for sure – no one company or individual will have all the answers. Remember that although the web design company/consultant you are using may be experts in their industry, they are not necessarily (and very probably not) experts in your industry. Certainly carefully consider taking their advice on everything web (after all, that is what you have hired them for), take their advice on-board with any advice that relates to your industry (taking care to ensure they either have some experience in your industry or have carried out research within your industry), but also make sure you work in partnership and bring your experience into play. This will have a lot of impact on the way in which they deal with your website and deliver a far better end result.

So, into the detail …

Starting out: benchmarking

Benchmarking future success relies on a very solid understanding of how successful your existing website or application is. No matter how much you have ‘done’ with your current site or application, it is vital you have that data. Secondly, you should be bechmarking your competitors. Of course, if you are a start-up, or launching a new application, this changes – but you can carry out competitive benchmarking.

What you are looking for when you do your initial benchmarking is:

  • How is that bounce rate (remember bounces can be influenced by dozens of things not just design …)
  • If an eCommerce site or a site selling a single product or service, the amount of visitors that start the transaction process but do not complete it
  • If non-transactional, the amount of people contact you through the website (remember, to analyse this properly you’ll need accurate data from initial calls about where they got your information from)
  • The amount of transactions completed
  • Remember your internal audience – important to keep them happy; make sure you get all stakeholders views on the website or application and assure those comments are taken on-board

These are just a few of the points that will help get you started. Following these rules should give you enough information to measure future success.

Getting going: objective setting

Clear and focused objectives for the design project are absolutely essential. Yeap, I know this seems obvious – and really it should be, but the reason this is so important is that so often in these types of projects, one vital question is not answered; how the project is tied back to business objectives. The kind of questions you/your agency should be asking are:

  • How the project will increase online sales increase (transactional/ecommerce)
  • How the project will increase enquiries (telephone and other)
  • How it might result in reduced customer service calls (after all, a design and usability project should also look to how it will save money too)
  • How it might reduce costs in other areas (postage? Fax? Outgoing telephone calls? … the list goes on)

Everything should be tied back into making and saving you money - do not lose sight of this. How you do this is offering a better product (both for your clients benefit and your own), and better service (again this benefits you and your customers).

Reviewing: the retrospective

This one is a little more simple. Or at least it should be … if you got 1 and 2 (see above) right. So, have your sales increased? Have you reduced costs anywhere down the line? You should be reviewing this every 3 months at a minimum – and ideally every month. This can be pretty time consuming, but it is highly worthwhile data.

In summary, measuring design and usability is about knowing where you are every step of the way, noting it, analysing it and using that data to move you forward.