You don't have a usability problem, you have a business problem
Apr 29, 2014

I got a call the other day from my favorite fictional company, My colleague asked me what I thought of the new JustSpatulas mobile app. Perhaps I could weigh in on some of the issues?

"What do you think the issues are?" I asked. (You know how it sometimes helps to answer a question with a question.)

"There are some usability problems," he responded, "since people aren't getting to the features that we want them to. Our metrics show that people tap through a few screens and then leave the app."

I reassured my friend that the spatula experience can be difficult to fully express in a smartphone app. But beyond that, I told him something that has been coming up in a lot of recent conversations:

You don't have a usability problem, you have a business problem.

The reason people were leaving the app, I said, is because the app doesn't give customers what they want. It was a challenge of customer experience. Improving the usability of the existing features would not, in this case, make customers happier; nor would it improve the business. Instead, finding out what customers want - and matching that to business goals in the product and service design - would create a more effective product.

Here are some questions to ask when reviewing your app, site, product, or service:

What are the business goals of the product: profit, operational savings, customer acquisition, branding, platform/ecosystem benefits, or others? Can you measure them? (And do you?)
Who are the customers you're trying to serve: New vs. existing? Young vs. old (or other demographic splits)? Two or three basic segments are a good first pass.
What do those customers want to achieve with your product, and how do you know? It's best to learn from direct, in-person (or at least live video) observation, combined with a review of all available metrics and analytics.
Are there competitors or comparables you can learn from, either through a best practice in their products, or a glaring mistake to avoid?

These are foundational questions that can be answered with some focused business research and some direct observation of customers. And with those answers, you can begin to map out a customer-inclusive strategy for the product.

Once the business problems are more or less resolved, it may be helpful to move on to a tactical usability review. But many teams, I've found, aren't yet at that stage. They're stuck with a "spatula app" that doesn't give customers what they want - yet.

If you have a business problem, consider applying Creative Good's "customers included" thinking, as described in our book.

(As always, get in touch if Creative Good can help.)