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Is the Slowing Economy Helping or Hurting Usability?

April 6, 2001

By Hoa Loranger

SEATTLE, Washington, April 6, 2001. Many of our Seattle attendees felt that the slowing economy would underscore the importance of usability practices in order to retain the competitive edge and meet business goals. They consistently told us that their biggest challenge is to incorporate usability design methods into their development process.

Photo of E-commerce team at Fingerhut
E-commerce team at Fingerhut
From left: James Rekon, Pat Bowyer, Aisha Elmajri, Karin Neel, Eric Lindberg

The e-commerce team from Fingerhut attended the Seattle World Tour to foster collaboration within a design team containing people from multidisciplinary backgrounds. James Rekon and Eric Lindberg say that their usability group contains members with backgrounds in writing content, design, and usability. They don't see the slow-down in retail sales negatively affecting the usability field: "In terms of usability, the focus will be the same... If we had to cut something, it wouldn't be usability ." While the slowing economy will force some companies to implement cutbacks and downsize, they believe that it will also show companies that they need usability in order to remain competitive.

Photo of Diane Harker, Fluent Communications
Diana Harker,

Diana Harker, who produces custom content for the web at Fluent Communications agrees: "In this economy, customer retention and acquisition is key ." She thinks the economy will only heighten usability's role in fulfilling these goals. One challenge Diana faces is the misconception marketers have about web content is that content for the web and for print is the same. Diana commented that the behavior is different between the two media. Printed materials are portable and can be read at leisure. People can pass it around and take it to different environments. Diana says, " Replicating printed content for the web doesn't work ." On the web, users don't have the time and patience to wade through dense content. Diana says her main challenge is to produce content and format it in a way that meets user needs and matches web behavior.

Photo of Rick Ells, University of Washington
Rick Ells,
University of

Rick Ells, information architect of the University of Washington website, feels limited resources make quality a necessity: "Our budget is somewhat smaller because we use research money...with the slow down in the economy, we probably won't have that much money. But it makes it more important that we do things well ." Richard's website targets a diverse audience, which includes students, faculty, staff, administrators, and parents. Getting consensus among decision-makers on the direction and organization of such diverse content is difficult. Rick struggles to strike a balance between information segmentation and integration . He wants to ensure that the site's identity is consistent throughout, while at the same time allow the site developers enough flexibility for creativity and innovation. Rick is looking into the future from a transmedia standpoint. He believes that students and professors want multimedia interactivity on the web. In the future, he hopes to be able to give students the capability to view lectures and interact with professors and other students through the site. His goal is to create an educational experience so that the community can gain from each other.

Photo of Stephane Paquet, Recruitsoft
Stephane Paquet,

Stephane Paquet of Recruitsoft faces the challenge of implementing design standards and processes in a growing company. Stephane works on web applications where new versions are released every 2 or 3 months. Stephane says that when the design cycles are short, people tend to think that there is no time for usability testing. He has learned a lot about how to conduct user testing, but wants to take it a step further by creating a process that supports ease of use.

Photo of Kelsey Barrett, The Mattei Companies
Kelsey Barrett,
The Mattei

Kelsey Barrett from The Mattei Companies faces a similar situation. He says his company just launched a new Internet initiative and the original company idea was to make it "flashy" and launch the site without really knowing the end user. Kelsey says his goal is to evangelize the importance of usability in supporting a strong business model by creating sites that meet user needs. Kelsey says, "I want to be able to show the organization the value and return on [the usability] investment; that the user is king . That there are [negative] effects that come with ignoring user needs."

The consensus among our attendees is that the slowing market will help highlight the importance of usability. Some of the attendees are taking advantage of the current economic situation to promote usability in their companies.


Photo of Tog and Don in front of the Opera House at the Seattle Center Photo of Jakob Nielsen signing a book for an attendee
Tog and Don in front of the Opera
House at the Seattle Center
Jakob Nielsen signs a book for an attendee

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