Why usability is still a competitive differentiator

The concept of 'usability' being the sole business differentiator for a product idea has drawn a lot of flak from the community recently. The sentiment is that since everybody has usability in one s roadmap it is a non-starter for a differentiator.

What that crowd fails to understand is that usability is not an easy proposition to achieve. Businesses can't make their products usable by just painting a thick coat of usability over their already functioning complex applications. And that s because usability is not a feature but a concept that is baked into every stage of product development. Usable products present such simplicity that sometimes it is easy to underestimate the challenges behind making one.

The Usability Challenge:

Understanding users and market

Let us say the application that you build is a set of features that help your customers achieve certain goals. Then the usability of that application is not just about how well the features are laid out within the app for easy discoverability. That is important too. But what is more important is how various features work with each other in the context of users achieving their end goals. This requires that we understand the needs (goals) of the users from our target market. This in-turn requires we define our target market. Since users across different target markets have varied needs it is imperative that we decide whom we are catering to even before we define our feature set. Else the product might end up being clunky and unusable because of feature overload.

Most products in the market are rendered unusable because somebody behind it decided to skip the crucial step of understanding user needs or defining the target market.

Understanding existing paradigms

The idea behind making a usable product is to keep the learning curve for end users low by appealing to their intuitive abilities. And this can only be achieved by knowing how they go about their tasks currently. Finding that out may involve talking to prospective customers or watching them use existing products in the market to understand what they like or don t like about their routine.

Businesses that make assumptions about user behaviour to circumvent this step inevitably end up with products that are difficult to work with.

Redefining Workflows

This is the crucial step where the understanding about users and usage patterns helps founders simplify the complexity in the existing patterns by redefining work flows and coming up with a product that has the winning edge.

Usability as a differentiator

As we see, to come up with a product that is more usable than the existing ones in the market, one requires a clear understanding of the users in the target market, an understanding of what is broken in the existing paradigms and a vision to redefine work flows that will make life easier for end users. Achieving all this is not simple. Neither can it be easily replicated by competitors. So anyone that is committed to the cause of making usable products has a clear business differentiator in place.

Nithya Rajaram

Nithya Rajaram