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Making the Business Case for User Interface Design

To show the benefits of good interface and usability design to your stakeholders, you need to make a strong business case. The business case not only explains design benefits to company stakeholders, but also how the company benefits from the investment.
This chapter is from the book
  • "Drive thy business; let not that drive thee."
    —Benjamin Franklin

Topics Covered in This Chapter

  • Gaps Between Stakeholders
  • Developing a Business Case Framework
  • The Benefits of Good Design
  • The Case for Profitability
  • Proving ROI
  • The Usability Engineering Life Cycle

In the days of the Internet revolution from the mid to late 1990s and early 2000s, any company related to the Internet—or computing in general—was considered gold. Indeed, many companies without a comprehensive business plan received funding because they were involved with the Internet.

Those days are long gone. Although the go-go days are over, what's been left in its wake is a more mature realization about what's needed to survive. You need all the help you can get to beat the competition. And, as always, customer satisfaction is the key to survival and growth.

This is why usability analysis is so important—it lets you understand how your users react to your user interface so you learn what's wrong and what's right in your user interface design, as well as any other peripheral materials that ship with your product, such as the documentation. Usability analysis includes early customer involvement to gauge their reaction to and productivity with an interface. This feedback gives you the opportunity to make changes before you release your product to your customers, which can result in more satisfied customers.

User interface design, usability design, and usability testing are all strongly linked. Without good user interface design, users won't like your product, whether it's a software product, hardware product, or Web site. Without usability design and testing, you'll never know if your design is useful until you receive input from the public. If your user interface is a flop, you and your project team will have to spend time, money, and effort fixing problems that could have been fixed during the development process, not to mention that the product team will have to endure customer service headaches.

To show the benefits of good interface and usability design to your stakeholders, you need to make a strong business case. The business case not only explains design benefits to company stakeholders, but also how the company benefits from the investment, called return on investment or ROI.

The first step is to identify and understand not only the users' goals, but also the goals of the various stakeholders in your company. Then you need to create an overall plan for your project to present to your stakeholders so you can get your plan approved. The plan should not only address the benefits from good design, but the plan should also discuss who in the company benefits from good design. As part of that discussion, you should make the case for profitability. Finally, you should make an ROI study that shows just how much money you expect will be made from the investment based on reasonable estimates of time and money.

Gaps Between Stakeholders

The product creation system includes four distinct stakeholder groups (Donoghue, 2002):

  • Users
  • Engineers and designers
  • Sales and marketing personnel
  • Managers

Each group has its own stake in the success of the product, be it a hardware, software, or Web product (or some combination of the three). Therefore, each group has different expectations of what it wants the product to be. These different expectations create gaps between the stakeholders that you must bridge in your usability business case.

What Users Expect

Users expect to have a successful experience with the product or documentation the first time around. Because the users are the people who determine whether something is useful, the characteristics of your users will go a long way toward determining what is actually usable, as Chapter 5, "How Users Behave," will discuss in greater detail. However, users look for some general goals when they use a product, whether the product is a Web site, a software program, or a piece of hardware such as a cell phone (Donoghue, 2002):

  • The product must be easy to learn.
  • The product must solve the user's needs.
  • The product help must be both easily accessible and effective in resolving the user's problem quickly.

Your customer base will likely have other criteria that define success, and these criteria will be more specific to the product. For example, if you have a Web site, your customers will want to get to the information in the fewest clicks possible.

What Engineers or Designers Expect

Product engineers and designers expect that they will largely be left alone to produce their product. They don't want to spend a lot of time fixing problems that arise after the product has been shipped, or having to answer questions from internal and external customers about how something works. In my experiences as a technical writer, I've found that during the development process, engineers and designers liked me to ask them as few questions as possible, and they liked it even more if those questions required short answers.

What Sales and Marketing People Expect

Sales and marketing people expect an outcome that makes as much money for the company as possible. There are a number of internal and external factors that sales and marketing people look at when a new product is released, including these:

  • The company's client base and contacts, especially if there are good candidates to be usability test subjects.
  • The public environment, such as the public and the media. The public and the media can be good or bad for business depending on the subject matter. Poor reviews of a software product can negatively affect sales, but favorable reviews can help make the jobs of sales and marketing people easier.
  • Macro forces, including economic, political, and technological. For example, if you sell software to airline and trucking companies, the high cost of fuel may prevent them from spending money on your product, no matter how much they like your product. Your product may also require people to have the latest version of the operating system they use or the latest service releases installed for your program to run properly.
  • Competing businesses. Businesses are always looking for every advantage, so sales and marketing people are always researching the competition to identify and exploit weaknesses, or perceived weaknesses, in competing products.

What Managers Expect

Managers expect to see how a product or initiative affects the bottom line, which is the only thing that matters in business. Therefore, managers want to see a cost-benefit analysis to gauge the company's ROI from usability testing.

Managers want this analysis to include the following so they can decide whether usability design and testing is feasible:

  • How much usability design and testing will cost. These costs must not only be projected to what you plan to test in the short term, but what you want to test in the long term. For example, if you develop a software product that will be upgraded over time, you may want to include usability tests for subsequent versions.
  • What will be tested. For example, will you test a software product, the associated customer support Web site, or both?
  • How many other resources are needed, including people, facilities, and equipment. For example, if you need to conduct in-person usability testing using computers in your lab or on the customer site, you need to include the costs and people involved. You should also measure the amount of work people do in terms of people days that your usability project will use.

You can be sure that the higher you go up the corporate ladder in the company, executives are aware of not only the expectations of the manager making the decision, but also of other departments in the company.

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