A website by Jeffrey Veen   more →

Why Bother With User Centered Design?

26 Jul 2004

Why do we bother doing what we do? Why spend the time, effort, and money required to build better Web experiences?

Of course you should use the full arsenal of user research methodologies to make your site better. Your audience will like your company more, they will use the site more, and they will buy from you more often.

But how much more?

It’s easy to say, “Who cares! It’s better!” And while that’s certainly true, there are so many times when quantitative measurements can be crucial.

Imagine this scenario: You feel your Web site isn’t working as well as it could be. Maybe people are abandoning shopping carts. Maybe you want them to sign up for a new service. Whatever it is, you know that doing a round or two of usability testing will very likely help you understand what the problem is, allowing you to solve it. But that test will cost money. It will take your time, the time of those who help you and watch the sessions, and likely some hard costs like video equipment, recruiting, compensation for the users' time.

How much does all that cost? $5,000? $10,000? How much better does your site have to get to compensate for spending that money? Some companies may just see their Web site as a fixed marketing cost that drives some qualitative “brand affinity”. Others know that each new customer is worth an average number of dollars, and therefore also know that if you increase users' ability sign up as a customer, you’ll increase revenue.

The trick is figuring out the numbers for yourself, because they are almost always specific to individual businesses and Web sites. But even though there is no silver bullet for calculating how important user research is to an organization, the process of finding out yours is one of the most important things you can do for your Web efforts.

My partner Janice Fraser and our spooky-smart MBA Scott Hirsch have been studying this for almost a year now, and have released their first findings in an important report in collaboration with the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.

They’ve done good and important work, and it makes me satisfied to see our nascent industry start growing up.

I can only scratch the surface of what they’ve been hearing in their research. For more about this, see the essay Scott wrote, or check out the report here. The executive summary of the report is on that page, too, and you can download it for free. ​