The Business Benefits of Designing for Usability

This was an interesting presentation. I actually chaired the session, so my note taking was pretty limited. Initially, I thought this would be the typical ROI speech. And to some extent it was. But Steve Jacob (of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Information Technology Technical Assistance and Training Center… yes it was a mouthful to introduce him) had something a little different in mind.

He also (like me) wants to make the world more usable and useful. Here’s how he suggests looking for opportunities to do it… Steve gave a presentation on (essentially) data mining for information about emerging markets from sources like the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Global Edge, TradeStats Express™ National Trade Data, and even the World Factbook published by our good friends at the CIA (hi Dan!).

The idea is to look to the information for demographics of the emerging markets to extrapolate some user characteristics of the populations. As we all know there are some basic user characteristics that can heavily impact design choices if they are known. One example he used was colorblindness. If China is your market, it might impact your design choice to remember that there are 48.8 million (extrapolated number) people with this type of vision deficiency.

Another vision-related example Steve used was blindness. From the presentation:

  • 180 million people worldwide have a visual impairment.
  • 40-45 million persons are blind.
  • 90% of the world’s blind population live in developing countries.
  • Approximately 50% of the world’s blindness is the result of cataracts.
  • China accounts for about 18% of the world’s blind population.

As a designer, you could look at this information as backup for talking to your company about changes to designs, especially if said company wants to work in emerging markets. Most companies without designers who understand (or care about) accessibility issues will be leaving certain aspects of targeted markets untapped. So this isn’t just an issue of accessibility, it’s an issue of potentially identifying a much lower level opportunity cost than is needed.

Another example given (and because of my writing background I really like this one) is writing content in simplified english. He gave four reasons why a company would want to do this:

  • Reduces the cost of language translation
  • Reduces ambiguity and liability
  • Speeds reading
  • Improves understanding for ESL users

The one I like the most is the first one. Companies spend millions of dollars each year translating their english content into dozens of other languages. Typically they use software as a first run on the translation, then have a person clean things up. If the content was written in simplified english, the software would be more accurate, and the people would spend less time (which equates to money) cleaning up the text.

There were many other examples, but what I liked in particular about this presentation is that Steve was challenging the audience to think like an entrepreneur, not just a yes monkey that is limited to the scope of the company’s current endeavors.

So check out some of those links above and start thinking about how your company can start to tap, and optimize emerging markets around the world. You could be creating a whole new line of business for you company just by thinking about some of the design constraints in these markets. As I have found, understanding your constraints leads to better opportunities with your designs.

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