Demonstrating a Return on Investment (ROI) for Usability

One of the hardest things we usability practioners have to do (besides getting customers/users into a sinister looking testing lab...) is demonstrate to senior managers that usability has a solid cost-benefit case. Since the dot-com bubble burst in 2001 those holding the purse strings have had little time for the sort of gay abandon with which money was thrown at web-related development in the past.

Today almost everything I do has to stack up with figures. Aside from becoming proficient in producing highly-understandable Excel sheets I have had to improve my ability to demonstrate a confident link between changes, improvements and development we make and the bottom-line.

It's all too easy for usability to turn into a subjective argument. My perceptions of a site or application journey are skewed by my experiences and my specialism within the industry. My Mum's perceptions of a site would be similarly skewed by her experiences on Amazon, Friends Reunited and her online banking etc. etc. Both of us have valid comments about the user-experience but making these objective require a specific approach.

The key is to divide the experience into discrete, mutually-dependent fundamentals: the brand, the content, the usability and the intended function. Under each fundamental element we can score the experience on a polarised scale (1-5). We then have a total user-experience score out 20. Each element needs some parameters of course and that's where I'm going to be discrete, I have my opinions but ultimately my job depends (for these are the tools of the trade to some extent) on keeping this kind of information back.

Of course, once you have a set of quantifiable user metrics you can add your business-related metrics to them: click-through, conversion, keyword density, unique views, session time etc. etc. Plotting the user data against the bottom-line data will indicate if your development is effective.

Of course, this only works if you've got a site/application to work on and if your user-centric design is about evolution rather than creation. If you want to know how to convince your stakeholders that user-centred design is required from day 0 of the project, you'll have to wait for another blog entry later ...

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