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USABILITY - Discovering the Value Link

Source: Information Highways

Posted on January 26, 2002

      High usability, coupled with high utility, creates a winning situation for any e-content application, while poor usability leads to financial loss.

      This is a key finding of the second e-Content Institute members' report, "Usability - Discovering the Value Link". In the first report, (e-Content at the Crossroads) usability was identified as an important part of the value equation for enterprise e-content resources. This report explores interface usability and value, directly relating e-content ROI to the user experience.

      Usability is a key determinant of both customer value metrics and usage behaviour, the two cornerstones of the overall performance of an online offering. It plays a pivotal role in ensuring high performance, which in turn, has a positive impact on the perceived business value of an online application. The online experience is determined by factors that range far beyond the parameters of computer screen or networks. The online interface - positioned between the promise of value and the confirmation or denial of that value - is crucial in articulating the value of online offerings.

      In the light of its pivotal position, the interface must fulfill five key functions:
- Articulate the purpose of the online offering
- Clarify the scope of the online offering
- Clarify the organization of the online offering
- Articulate the value proposition of the online offering
- Clarify the target audience of the online offering

      The establishment of a specified context is important so that the interface articulates the purpose and value proposition of the online offering, as well as clarifying its scope, organization and target audience. Several factors contribute to an all-too-common failure in this area. These include: a design process divorced from users; institutional assumptions and biases; and a non-holistic approach to design.

      There are several common usability issues that occur at a tactical level. These recur with remarkable regularity and consistency, irrespective of the type and nature of the online application.
- Use of metaphors
- Taxonomy
- Nomenclature
- Feature versus task
- Spatial encoding
- Audience conflation
- Conflicting formats and conventions

      Finally, the report raises the complex question of how to measure the contribution of usability to value, and offers two sample frameworks. When measures of this type are applied, the resulting figures illustrate the fundamental effect that usability has on realizing returns on online investment. Value perception continues to be relative, but cash flows are not, and organizations can link value and ROI, by emphasizing the bottom line.

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