Usability and usefulness

This week, as I was conducting usability tests, I was once again reminded of the old truth: it doesn’t matter how usable your product is, if it isn’t useful.

UX cartoon: Usability vs usefulness

First there should be user research

In a perfect world all design projects would begin with proper user research. We would interview target user groups, even observe them in their natural habitat to truly understand their needs, goals and contexts of use. But that’s not always the case.

The next best thing

If the early user research is skipped, the next best thing to me is to conduct usability tests to an early prototype of the product that is assumed to solve the assumed user needs. Why? Because then I also get to interview users. Better late than never, right? And since it’s only an early prototype, it’s not even that late.

Usability test: two for the price of one

Actually, with a usability test you get two for the price of one: you do get to test the usability of the prototype, too. And most probably find improvement ideas. Great. But most importantly you get to hear the user out: what is his/her work about? Where is the work done? With who? What kind of devices and other apps is he/she using? What are the work processes like? What kind of problems is he/she dealing with? What would help to solve them?

And if you’re lucky, like I was, you may learn whether the whole darn product would be useful to the target users. You might even learn what should you do instead to make it useful. Because if it isn’t useful, it is not used. No matter how usable it is.

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