In the first stage, when a product based on a radically new concept
is introduced to the market, a small group of enthusiastic early adopters
will be excited about its basic possibilities. They will be eager to
espouse the product driven by curiosity and the prospect of being able
to do things in ways that have never been possible before.
This first stage is short-lived. In the second stage, a wider range
of people will realize the potentials of the new product. And for these
people, the basic capabilities are insufficient. They don't buy out
of mere curiosity and competitors quickly seize the opportunity to enter
the market offering similar products with new extended features that
makes the product more useful. At this stage functionality becomes the
key differentiator, and customers will pick the product offering the
most features. This places great pressure on vendors to extend the capabilities
of their products. In the heat of competition, they often build new
functionality on top of the existing product without giving any thought
to the demands of the third phase, where customers will stipulate ease
of use as top priority.
Market Maturity on the Internet
This resembles the situation that many companies,
that are providing services on the Internet, are facing today. In order
to take advantage of the digital economy, they have built up complex
online solutions, where the focal point has been technical issues and
the prime consideration to get it up and running as fast as possible.
While the product might have been suitable for the target group at the
time of release, the risk is that customers of the third stage will
find it annoying and to hard to use, if no thought has been given to
usability issues during the development process. These customers will
not be content with the mere possibilities that the product provides,
if the old ways of doing things are more convenient to them. The companies
that have rushed to gain first-mover advantage without truly understanding
the customer needs, will thereby be left with a product that requires
a thorough and very costly redesign, if they don't want to damage the
reputation of their company.
The Sluggish Acknowledgement of Usability
Usability is slowly but surely becoming acknowledged
as an important factor in Web development. New companies dedicated to
Web usability are popping up, and established Web agencies are setting
up in-house usability departments. The experts are ready to throw themselves
into the task. But on the face of it, most companies are still reluctant
to spend time and money on usability and Web agency consultants don't
quite get the new approach and carry on selling technology instead of
full-fledged useful solutions. If usability issues are taken into account,
it is often in the form of a last minute usability check, where only
minor changes are possible within the time scale. Sticking to the usual
course of action, new projects miss a unique opportunity to overtake
their competitors, and deliver a superior online experience that is
relevant and targeted to their clients.
Budget for Usability
Many usability failures are due to a short-sighted
focus on technology and the inability to anticipate the shifts in market
maturity. Making full-fledged usable Web solutions require budgeting
for usability to enable committed participation of usability experts
and continuous involvement of end-users throughout the development process.
And there is a great financial advantage to this approach. It costs
about ten times less to do it right the first time than being forced
to redesign a failure. Fact is, that in the third stage it is more essential
to design for use, than to be the first one out of the gate.