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Designing for the Future We Want: How Usability Can Improve Businesses and Our World

by Cynthia Stipeche, Jason Wolter, and Leigh Anne Bishop


How usability can impact businesses

Design has a huge influence on people's lives. What we design today can have a lasting impact on the world. This year’s theme for World Usability Day is "Design for the Future We Want," inspired by the Sustainable Development Goals, set by the United Nations (UN). These 17 goals on the 2030 agenda provide a roadmap to a more peaceful and prosperous future for all. Usability is one way that companies can improve the world through better experiences.

At BrandExtract, we believe that all companies should care about usability; not only because it can impact business and the bottom line, but also because it's the right thing to do. We sat down with experts from our team – including Jason Wolter (Information Architect), Cynthia Stipeche (Director of Brand Experience), and Leigh Anne Bishop (Web Strategist) – to discuss how usability can impact businesses and our world.

This guide offers insight to business leaders who are considering ways to better serve their clients and improve their user experience. We cover the following:

Q1: Why is usability important for brands?

Cynthia Stipeche: Usability is important for brands because you don’t want to shut out your audience. It’s important because you should always take into consideration your customers or your target audience – which equals users and people who visit your website or other digital properties. If it’s not usable, then you’re not allowing people to get to what you’re trying to sell, explain, or demonstrate. So it makes business sense to provide a usable experience.

Jason Wolter: Usability is important for brands and businesses because it can be a direct correlation to your brand. If someone goes on your website or interacts with your products and they have a frustrating experience or things are difficult to find, that could then transfer in their consciousness to your brand.

When a user encounters a difficulty, it's a negative currency that can accumulate to the point where a user will get frustrated and leave your site or go somewhere else the next time they are looking for information. So it's important to provide a good experience so that they have a memorable experience and think fondly of your brand.

Q2: What is the future of usability?

Cynthia: I think the recent Supreme Court case regarding the Domino’s website will affect a lot of what happens in the future with usability and accessibility. For those who don’t know: Domino's Pizza had this fun, engaging website that allowed users to order their pizza. You could view where your pizza was in the whole process and who was cooking it. As fun and as engaging as that experience was, it was inaccessible to an audience with disabilities. So, I think that will be a major hot topic going forward.

I also think that brands and customers will develop a better understanding about usability: how it ties in directly to brands and how it can be a serious issue if a user can’t access a site when they need to.

So I think the conversation about usability is going to be more mainstream. Even individuals who may not be as well-versed in what we do will still have a gut feeling when a user experience isn’t working. If you think back 30 or 40 years when you didn’t see wheelchair ramps or accessible bathrooms – it's a similar situation. Today those accommodations are commonplace, and I think we’ll eventually get that in the digital realm.

Jason: A few trends come to mind. Accessibility has become increasingly important as some companies are even facing lawsuits because of inaccessible websites. With millions of people in the world living with disabilities, it’s imperative that interfaces and products be inclusive and usable to all.

Motion Design is another. Using animation, this type of design helps to visually guide users through actions needed to perform a task. It provides a “moment of delight” for users and makes using the product a more memorable and enjoyable experience.

Device Agnostic UI is also becoming increasingly important as devices integrate. From mobile and wearable devices to desktop and virtual reality platforms, users have many different ways to interact with your brand. It’s important that their experiences are seamless between these devices.

Zero UI, or interfaces that don't include physical touch, is absolutely going to shape the future of UX. Interacting with Artificial Intelligence through voice or gestures is quickly becoming a part of everyday life. Designing these experiences has moved to the forefront of UX design.

There's also a potential future in which users get information outside of websites. But that doesn't mean there is a limited shelflife for UX designers. Someone still has to consider how users interact with AI, so there are still usability considerations in a Zero UI world. The goal of UX designers will always be to reduce friction, and that will continue to be a factor as the digital world around us changes.

Q3: What is the difference between usability and accessibility?

Cynthia: Usability is a higher level term; it covers many things. So whenever we create usable sites or a user experience, we’re looking at total access where we’re thinking about the user and how they approach the site.

Accessibility is a little bit different because now we’re looking at individuals who may have a difficult time accessing a keyboard or with impaired vision who are dependent on another piece of equipment to access a site.

Leigh Anne Bishop: Website usability is a quality attribute that assesses the effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction with which specified users achieve a specified goal(s) on a site.  Accessibility is a subset of usability that focuses on how users with disabilities perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the web, and contribute to the web. These two terms are closely intertwined — a website cannot be usable unless it is accessible.

Jason: Accessibility refers to the ability for people with disabilities to use your site. That usually means the site is impaired in some way. Usability refers to the ability of anyone to use your site. They overlap when it comes to people who are disabled because if your site is not accessible, it won’t be usable. Accessibility doesn’t matter to people without sensory impairments, but the site still has to be usable to them. If a site is not accessible, it will not be usable by anyone with impairments.

By default, making things accessible makes them easier to use for everyone as well, whether it's color contrast, font sizes, or cosmetic details. By making things more accessible, you make them more usable as well.

Q4: Why is usability a worthwhile investment?

Jason: Investing in usability testing and research should be considered on a case-by-case basis. But at the end of the day, if a site is not usable, people won’t use it. If you don’t take steps to ensure usability through rigor and testing, then you won’t know for sure if you’re site will be optimized for usability. Within our team of usability experts, we know what we think will work; but until you actually test the site with someone who is new to that experience, you won’t know for sure. Even with best practices, there’s no substitute for observing actual users in their actual environments.

If your website or product is difficult for someone to use, then they won’t use it. Users will move on and look for other options that match their expectations. Also, in the case of a website, a poor experience can extend to and affect the perception of your brand.

Q5: How can companies improve usability?

Cynthia: The biggest piece of advice I would give to companies that want to improve usability would be to actually integrate that into their business. I think it makes sense to have an employee who is an advocate and knowledgable about usability and accessibility. I think the sooner you do that the better. At some point, it will be a legal issue and it just won’t just be a nice thing to do or maybe “something to consider." It’s a major issue and could ultimately lead to lawsuits.

It’s also the right thing to do for your customers. By providing a better experience on your site and throughout your entire brand experience, you’re creating a better connection with your customers by leaving them with a good feeling of who they are giving their money to and who they are working with.

Jason: Make sure that usability improvements you make have a purpose. It doesn’t matter how easy you make something if it’s not what your user needs, it does not provide much value. It helps to begin with the end in mind, and work backward throughout the user experience to reduce friction.

A Few Extra Insights

Hopefully, we've helped shed some light on how important usability can be for your brand. If you might need help with your website or user experience, we'd love to chat. If you want to learn more about usability, accessibility, or how to develop a high-performing website, check out these resources: