Usability is not enough

I’ve just been looking for a holiday online.

The UX consultant becoming the user usually ends in tears and a blog so here we are.

I started with a simple checklist:

1. Self catering

2. In west Wales

3. Baby friendly

4. Near the beach

5. Saturday to Saturday

Armed with my years of web experience I thought I would have a short list of great options in minutes.

I was wrong.

Two episodes of ‘Come dine with me’ passed and I was no closer to my holiday. My blood pressure was growing. The glorious irony was that this experience was making me need a holiday.

The problem I was having was the websites I had found simply didn’t let me tell them the stuff on my shortlist.

If my web experience had been in a travel agent instead, the conversation would have gone as follows:

Me - “I’m looking for a family friendly self catering cottage in west wales for 7 nights from [date] that is ideally near the beach.”

Travel consultant - HOW MANY PEOPLE?

Me - Well, 2 adults and a baby. Does a baby count as a whole person?

Travel consultant - HOW MANY PEOPLE?

Me - Err, ok 3

Travel consultant - I FOUND 30

Me - Cool, are they all available on the dates I need?

Travel consultant - NO

Me - Er, why did you show me them then?

Travel consultant - SHORTLIST, BOOK OR MORE INFO?

Me - Forget it, we’ve decided on a staycation this year.

My point is that regardless of how easy it is to use something, if it hasn’t been designed to provide something useful then it is by its very nature, useless.

The truth good design is hard. I’ve come up with enough bad designs to realise that. Design becomes easier when you start to involve people in the process because they give you the answers.

The critical thing here is by understanding the people that you are designing for you are more likely to make something that is useful to them. You understand their problems which makes easier to work out how to solve them.

The easiest way of working out how people go about doing things is to watch them doing similar tasks and quizzing them along the way. This uncovers requirements as well as behaviour that you would never have dreamt of.

You will probably emerge from this research thinking how weird/ fascinating people can be. Congratulations, you are now a member of the UX club.

It is not enough to make something usable. Make it useful and usable and your self catering cottage in Pembrokeshire will never be empty!

James is responsible for leading user-centred design projects across all industry sectors, and also runs cxlabs. He has written two UX books, speaks regularly at international conferences, and co-founded UXBristol.