Why don’t more digital agencies conduct usability phases?

There’s no point building the latest in socially connected branding
mechanisms if they simply don’t work or are too frustrating to use. Too
many times I have seen a huge mobile phone or FMCG brand burn thousands
on a campaign whose digital component is simply infuriating. Pretty
pictures and flashing lights may work for billboards, but interactivity
requires a user-centric design process, the outcome being one of form
and function.

Its time more people talked seriously about functionality,
labelling and usability at project kickoffs. But agencies often
overlook this key phase, and the result is an execution that, however
pretty, ultimately leaves the consumer pretty flat. So if youre
working with a client and you want to put usability at the core of
everything you do, follow this simple two-step process, and make sure
your client reaps the reward of a user-centric execution:

  1. Understand: why do agencies often overlook the importance of usability
  2. Advocate: make the strongest case you can for putting usability firmly on the agenda

1. Understand: why do agencies often overlook the importance of usability?

  • No time
    Usability evaluations have to be
    planned and can take up to 2-3 weeks. Clients don’t like this, agencies
    get briefed too late and it means some down time until the results come
  • No Budget
    With average professional reports
    landing between $10K – $20K, it’s just too hard to convince clients. A
    reasonably thorough usability evaluation should take around 10% of your
    project’s budget. This takes away more honey from agency margins, and
    the client won’t know any better at the end of the day… will they?
  • The Wrong ROI Metrics
    When a client is looking
    at impressions, unique visitations and page views the fact that people
    can’t actually complete an entry form without tearing their hair out is
    irrelevant. The statement “No one’s entering the competition!?” leads
    to a reactionary “let’s put a larger tile on the home page, and animate
  • Lack of Understanding
    Usability evaluation
    within Australia is still misunderstood or unknown. Perhaps some
    clients assume that these items will be addressed accordingly, as we
    are digital experts. Guess again. “Testing” is usually confined to
    systematic testing eg. “CAN a user get from A to B” not “HOW hard is it
    to get from A to B”.
  • Loss of Control
    Agencies just love encircling
    everything to do with a project. With no inhouse expertise and very
    little usability freelancing available it’s straight to the too hard
    basket. Fragmentation and specialisation in this area requires that you
    either look outside or form an internal division.
  • Pure Fear
    The reality is that usability is
    really scary. I personally find it fascinating, however it puts
    agencies to the test and this usually seem to trigger fear more than
    interest. After all, agencies are expected to have all the ideas, when
    external people are involved it opens up the possibility that insights
    can be gained from outside the brains trust.

I could go on, but that would be a little hypocritical – after all,
you actually want to know how to make sure that usability gets the
attention it deserves. So…

2. Advocate: make the strongest case you can for putting usability firmly on the agenda.

  • Evangelical Observation
    Have the CEO and
    Creative Director stands behind a user. Now, users are not other
    staff or clients. Clients know too much about the brand or project, and
    agency staff are likely to be highly computer literate (you’d hope).
    So, a virgin user… look around, the delivery guy, accountant, kitchen
    staff… whoever, as long as their normal job is not in front of a
    computer eight hours a day. Then allow the client to observe as the real
    user fiddles and muddles their way through the new functionality. When
    facilitated properly and the right questions asked, this can be a very
    positive and insightful session. Once the CEO is converted, their new
    toy will be user testing and you can push for professional evaluation.
  • Business First
    Allow the client to understand
    that you are here to provide value and in working with an expert
    usability partner you are bringing the project closer to guaranteed
    success. They don’t have to cross their fingers on launch as it’s
    already been trialled and tested by true audience members, not the
    developers who built the code or the project manager who wrote the
  • Brand Loyalty
    Allowing people to flow through
    your site instead of requiring them to jump hurdle leads to a positive
    experience being imbued onto the brand. Hopefully people don’t even
    notice how easy it is, they just start and finish the transaction
    without question. There is such a thing as bad publicity.
  • Word of Mouth
    People will normally fight to
    complete something they see value in, however “I completed it, but
    f&ck it was a pain” is a far cry from “yeah, it was easy, you
    should try it too”. Good experiences promote loyalty, uniquely
    fantastic experiences promote champions.

I’m sure projects with gargantuan budgets, long timelines and plenty
of emphasis on end users are getting some attention in this area.
However, these issues attach themselves to all project sizes and it is
up to managers to seek appropriate budgets in order increase their

I’ll get off my soap box now and leave you with some great reading around the subject (Ed:
all the links are to Amazon.com, and no, we dont make any affiliate
money from you clicking through. We just thought itd be handy to know
where you could buy these great books!

Enjoy making a difference to user experience. Weve all got plenty
of other stuff to do, so make our lives easier and invest in usability.

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