This is an old article, just reposting as it’s one that still resonates from my old blog.
Usability refers to the ease with which an interface (be that a screen, device, object or website; basically anything you can interact with) can be used by its intended audience. Usability takes into account how easy or efficient something is to use, how easy it is for a newbie to learn to use it and even how satisfying that experience is for users. I’m passionate about it, anyone working in online industries has to be (in my opinion). The ROI that results from getting usability right is huge and can be the difference between success and failure if you’re designing or creating anything.
Brands as interfaces
Every time a consumer comes into contact with a brand be that online, by walking into a shop, reading about them in a newspaper, receiving a piece of marketing or any one of the myriad other ways you can encounter a brand, an interaction takes place. The places where this contact occurs is the interface, the way that contact manifests itself is the interaction. An interaction can be physical, verbal, mental or social in nature and each interaction can result in success or failure for your brand. What you’re looking for, of course, is for each interaction to be a satisfying experience for the consumer where they go away with a positive impression of your brand. For that impression to be a good one, as a brand you’re going to have to be usable, accessible, communicative and sociable.
Your customers come first
I’m a big fan of getting customer service right. As a consumer myself I get so frustrated when I’m let down by a brand but can easily see how they could have avoided or fixed the issue. As a consumer there’s a journey you embark on with a brand and touchpoints where you interact with them, those touchpoints are the interfaces between you and the brand. Customer journey mapping is a great tool which allows an organisation to document all the touchpoints they have with their customers and audience, measure their success or failure at each touchpoint and then work to improve or optimise the journey. Undertaking this exercise can be eye opening and really shows where you need to focus to make customers interactions with you more enjoyable and successful both for them and for you. In these days where brands are seeking to expose themselves to their audience through social media this seems particularly relevant, it also sounds very much like usability at work to me. Mapping out and optimising a customer journey seems very much like an effort to improve usability.
In this sociable world
We’re seeing a lot of talk about business design lately with a lot of buzz around ‘social business design’ in particular. This new trend of brands trying to be engaging, communicative and open requires the customer (user) experience to be spot on. Given the fact your audience can now discuss you across multiple platforms and media it’s more important than ever that you remove the pain points in your interface to make the customers experience as smooth and hassle free as possible.
So, brand usability. The practice of measuring and optimising a brands user interfaces. It’s a practice that already exists (under many other names) and there are specialists out there who can help you with certain interfaces you want to optimise. However, people who can offer to give a holistic service to help you make your brand more usable are few and far between right now. I think that’ll change. As social becomes the norm and the customer comes back into focus, brands are going to be crying out for help in these areas as they realise they’ve brought all the focus onto their service through trying to run before they can walk in this new sociable world.
Brand usability, social business design or customer relationship optimisation; whatever you want to call it the future seems bright for those who understand these topics and it maybe even brighter for brands who understand the importance of practising them.