Usability. You need to care about it.

by Todd Armstrong on October 29, 2010

I was recently involved in a project consisting of a group of websites. There is one big player who’s in charge of several franchises of the same business. Each one of the businesses has its own manager in charge of it. The job was to create a site for each individual business that would display the products each of them had in their inventory, as well as one site for the ‘group’ that would show the combined inventory of all the sites.

Turns out though that the big boss wants all the products to show up on all the sites, regardless of which store they’re actually in. Now we have conflict right? The individual managers have to play along, but they want their products shown on top of all the others.

Starting to get the picture? A user can find the same product on 9 different websites but only one of the stores actually has that product. There’s another little wrinkle. The products on each of the individual sites have several sorting options: price (low to high), brand, etc. However, since each individual business owner wants their products shown first (regardless of the sorting), a user can be browsing the products by price, but the price will suddenly jump around as the user goes past that specific stores products.

Why all the complication? In a word, ego. The big boss wants max exposure for all his products. The little bosses don’t want to be selling products for their sister stores. Despite telling them that it’s a confusing concept, they all came up with this “solution”. And yeah, it meets the criteria set…but at what cost? The development team had to figure out how to sort and display all the products to the given specification–which took more time and cost the client more money. But the cost of losing business because your visitors are leaving your site…either by confusion or frustration…I’m not sure can be measured.

Bottom line is that usability is a big deal. When you hire a web developer it’s not just because he can put some code together to make some images and text show up. It’s the experience of trial and error building hundreds of sites. The¬†expertise¬†of figuring out what works and what doesn’t work. That’s why you hire a seasoned web developer and not the 13 year old kid that will build your site dirt cheap.

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