Many of the best looking wrist watches are completely useless. A person might prefer a one watch to another watch because of the way that it looks. It might have right name brand and it might even feel good on the wrist. However, if you ask the owner what time it is, they will squint, twist, and turn until they can read the time. Some watches seem to be great because they have day of week and day of month functionality built into them. Most of these kinds of watches are ridiculous. They simply don't work for people over 50 or so because the writing is too small. The contrast is weak and the fonts are all wrong.
Speaking of time keeping devices, most alarm clocks are also useless. They might look great in the store, but most of them should be crushed and burned. For starters, just setting an alarm clock can take a Ph.D. in Alarm Clockology. It can be nearly impossible, even with years of experience to get them to work right. I've heard war story after war story about senior citizens with their glasses off in the morning trying to read the alarm clock. They can't see the numbers because there is a total lack of contrast and the numbers are too small. Worse, the buttons are too confusing and close to each other.
When you have a spare bit of time, simply observe some people making buying decisions. You'll see that they go for colorful boxes, tons of options, fanciful claims, and brand names. Just like well-trained lab rats. They rarely even touch the item they are buying because the box alone provides "enough information". It is also a bit taboo, unfortunately, to open boxes in stores. There is also the argument that "it only costs $19.95" so why should you care? But the reality is that a trivial purchasing decision, such as a watch or an alarm clock, can come back to haunt you every day for years.
On the web these ideas are especially relevant. Let me first say that this is why focus groups will fail you again and again. People will swear up and down that they love a particular product. They will tell you that the colors are right, the size is perfect, and the information is exactly what they needed. However, until you watch and test users you will not see how well the product works. You will not find out if they really would continue using the product, in the right amount, at the right time, under the conditions you expected. People have a funny way of deciding when, where and how they will using something. So, a core web site design rule is that just because something looks cool and people tell you that the site is great, it doesn't mean they will spend time there or that they will buy your goods and services. If you want to do it right, you have to test your customers.
The web is like any other commercial war zone. You need to know the balance of marketing to usability. They can go hand in hand, but not always. What I mean is that you need to let designers use the colors they want with the icons and graphics they want. You want to let the designers design so that people say they prefer your web site. You don't want to stifle creativity. But, you simply must test people to see if the designs are right. You need to see what actions the designs elicit.
You ought to have usability-minded folks working right along with the marketing and engineering crews from the start. This is really the idea behind the customer experience. You want to balance the needs of the company with the needs of the users. You want users driving many of your business requirements. And, you want your business to be structured to serve their needs. WebWord.com has seen time and again that this leads to profitability and success.
If you just build customers' preferences into your products, services, and web site, you will not be satisfying their true needs. Until you understand how your customers organize their lives, you can't organize your company around them. And even when they throw preferences your way, you need to verify them with data that determines how they really act. Customer experience data is golden.
Many people know that I am concerned with usability and human factors and they know that I critique all sorts of things, especially web sites. For some reason, they want me to know that they like what they own. They tell me that they love what they have. They are always suggesting that I visit some web site. I usually laugh and then get into a long conversation with them. My argument is quite simple actually. Just because you really like something it doesn't mean that you can use it correctly or efficiently. And it doesn't mean that it is safe or fast or that it will be the right tool for the job. Simply stated, preference does not equal performance.
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