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Startup: Product Usability – Analysis

, July 17, 2014, 1 Comments

usability startup marketexpress-inIn the times of ‘Internet of Things’, as one visualizes new products and ideas, it appears at times, as if we are talking about an era lived long back –Futuristic Technologies and Mythology, and at other times, we are trying to resolve challenges with technology and infrastructure –SMAC – Social, Mobility, Analytics and Cloud.

As I am writing this article, just a few min back, I read a comment on one of the LinkedIn posts, “Probably most technology when created, is initially accessible for the elite. The challenge and opportunity is to how to use this technology for the “un-reached”.” – Sounds convincing.

So we talk about new and challenging SMART (rather miraculous) products and soothing things around, mobility, untapped markets etc. But more often the gap is seen in understanding user-need, or usability in a product or application. Recently, I gave talk at Vodafone Innovation Labs in May end, titled “Usability in Mobile Apps for Emerging Markets – Analysis to Execution”.

And as I talk about ‘Usability’ with various groups and people, I am often told that they have brilliant engineers but understanding of usability is a big gap.

Known conflict between UI and development groups, is no different – just that now along with look&feel, we also emphasize on experience.

So what is this experience or usability? Let us analyze.

As per wikipedia – Usability is the ease of use and learnability of a human-made object.

Further, factors that define usability are of two types – 1. Rational, and 2. Emotional – and both play a significant role in making a purchase decision for a Product | Service | Application.

More often as we talk about them, they appear to be more like common sense factors, but methodologies are developed to make them be implemented or adopted. Lets us just go through a few products/services across domains and try understanding why certain things worked (became hit) or didn’t work.

My first example is Linux vs. Windows. Many of us grew up reading jokes about windows crashing, and pride associated with Linux. But windows is popular for the very simple fact that its easy to use/learn. One may notice the role of usability here.

We may talk about Google and Facebook being big businesses, and the analysis points to the simple fact that they just understood the basic needs of humans that is ‘search in the flooding information’ and ‘sharing in this displaced world’ respectively.

We all talk about Cloud. Initially it was fashionable, and now it is necessity – again as it helps humans to work with minimum setup and commitment, and helps one travel light.

On similar concepts, we talk about e/m-commerce, e/m-retail, virtual trial rooms, and Bluetooth speakers etc.

There are times when certain features can work negatively as well. For example, ‘auto-completion’ feature in mobile devices, which many times end up changing the meaning or word, if one doesn’t notice what gets typed.

‘Necessity is the mother of invention’, and SMS feature on mobile phones is an example of that. In initial days of mobile phones, getting a signal, to make calls, used to be a stress most of the times. So the impacted engineer thought of this human independent method of communication, where one types a message and clicks on send, and the SMS goes whenever the phone catches signal.

Further, when mobile devices were new, the target user group was defined to be CXOs etc. However, it was surprising to know that as a community, the very first adopters of mobile phones in India were fishermen in Kerala. They figured out the use case of maximizing profit by prize corrections for fishes sold in market, based on the type of fishes caught in the middle of the shore. Marketing guys never thought of it until the data/reports came out.

Also, in one of the conferences, I remember hearing the story of failure of first launch of razor by Gillet for Indian market, inspite of it being at right price-point and having amazing features. The project-post-mortem report showed that it was much advanced in features, and didn’t serve the actual user need of safe-shave in low lighting conditions, and also lacked the ability of getting cleaned with less, and no running water supply – as needed by majority of the population, it was planned for.

All these examples emphasize on understanding usability as an important parameter to be correlated with the success of a product/feature/service – and that is why usability is an important dimension for defining product quality for a system or software product under ISO 25010.

Further, we see humans moving from ‘Physiological’ needs to ‘Self-actualization’ in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as well. With that note, highlighting the two extreme classes of population, I’d like to end this article with following two examples.

First, the most innovative inventions quoted in recent times – ‘Embrace Innovations‘ – where the problem was framed to identify the user as a desperate parent in a remote village without access to a major hospital; the need was to give their baby a chance to survive – read more

Second being the retail experience created by Prada, as shown in this video

At last, the message for all the readers of this article is – Think User, and Think Usability, before You Plan and Implement Your Plans.