September 3, 2014

User-centered development creates a win-win situation

In a previous blog post of mine (, I wrote about a close relative of mine and the problems he faced when he intended to buy a flight online, via a web page. You may recall that it took three people to figure out what the problem was. When we realized what the problem was, it was “obvious”, but we needed an explanation to be able to complete the purchase.

Imagine if a physical store served as the web; what if it took three clients to figure out how to purchase goods in the shop. How long would such a store survive? On the web, users accept this to a much greater extent. I have met too many users feeling embarrassed and “stupid” when they don’t know what to do. If the users don’t know what to do, it’s not the user that is stupid, it’s a bad design, that’s it!

When you visit a physical store, you can be sure that they have used elaborate techniques to maximize their sales. Three examples of this are:

1: The placement of the goods in the store

Milk is placed at the back of the store because most people will buy milk, so to get to the milk, they have to pass by many other kinds of goods, creating a far greater chance for impulse purchases. Shops often place fruit early in the store, and candy near the cashier. You feel healthy when you bought fruit, so you think you can reward yourself with some candy. And if candy is placed near the cashier, many kids will ask their parents to buy candy when they are standing in the queue.

2: Products placement on the shelf

Products that the store wants to sell a lot of are placed so they literally meet your eyes. These products should not be placed too close to the outer edges at the side of the shelf, because they will be easily missed when shoppers come around the corner of the shelf.

3: How to make a product seem cheap

A product seems cheaper if you put lots of it in a box. Make sure that the box is so full, that after picking it up, it will be difficult to put a product back without other products falling out.

The techniques for getting customers to buy as much stuff as possible have been studied for a long time, as maximizing sales in the store obviously means better profits. You need education to learn how to achieve maximum sales. No one would allow those who assemble and build the shelves to also be responsible for product placement. They are good at building shelves designed for the different products, but everybody knows that it’s not enough to achieve maximum sales.

Web sales are constantly increasing, and today most companies that sell something will have a website where you can buy their products. But when it comes to actual knowledge about how to maximize their sales on the web, they are a long way behind their knowledge about how to maximize their sales in a physical store.

This is not surprising considering how long physical stores have existed, and how long web commerce has existed. But what is amazing is that so many websites let those who so to speak “build the shelves” to be responsible for product placement. Don’t get me wrong, they do this the best way they can, based on their own perception of how the products should be placed.

Regrettably, they lack the skills required to build a store where customers can quickly and easily make a purchase. In the worst case scenario, the customer leaves the web page without managing to complete the buy.

Alternatively, it might require three persons to complete the purchase, as I described at the beginning of the article. Customers don’t encounter these problems in a physical store, and if they have problems they can always ask the shop personnel. When you visit a web page, you’re on your own.

How can the merchant avoid this scenario? And in doing so instead offer their customers a web page where customers easily can find products, get the help they need when they need it, and where they easily and effortlessly understand how to carry out their orders?

My response is user-centered development.

But why user-centered development?

If you work with user-centered development, you have a powerful tool to create IT systems that are efficient and easy to use, and work as a tool, not as an obstacle in the task to be performed. In other words, user-centered development helps to create a positive user experience for the user, which as we know is of enormous importance, because the user holds the cash at the end of the day.

That said, user-centered development is a powerful tool, but you will not use the full power of the tool if you don’t know how to use it. Those who master this tool and know how to utilize it to its full capacity, are those who are educated in usability and work with usability and user experience.

User centered development does not apply only to web pages, you can use it for websites, apps, business processing systems and so on. I would say everywhere where you have a human interacting with a system through some device.

If you have a usability expert / user experience expert working with user-centered development, you will have brought about the right conditions to create a positive user experience.

In user centered development, there is something that both the company and its users, clients or customers will find useful. The company gets the benefits and earnings they desire, while customers get an easy to use and efficient user interface to work with. User-centered development creates a win-win situation.

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