‘They don't make them like they used to', we declare when a product fails to meet our expectations. I have spent all too many weekends sat on the floor surrounded by bits of flatpack furniture, staring at assembly instructions that are as useful as a chocolate teapot.
Mind you, that’s not quite as irritating as the juice cartons that seem to pour half their contents onto the table rather than into the glass. Whoever “they” are, they don’t appear to use the products they design, or they too would have sticky tabletops and cupboards with screws missing.
Designing a product – whether it be a tin of beans, a car or a house - around how the user will use it is fundamental to that product’s success. User-centric design - particularly of websites where we all have a shorter attention span and endless choice at our fingertips - can tip the balance between profitable repeat business and falling at the first virtual hurdle.
World Usability Day on 14th November highlighted the importance of considering users’ needs from the very beginning of the product lifecycle. Not only will you increase customer satisfaction and strengthen your brand, but you will also reduce the volume of queries into your call centres, simplify training requirements and keep IT maintenance and development costs to a minimum as well as keeping customers satisfied. After all, it’s far easier and cheaper to tweak a product or service before it’s launched rather than having to redesign it once it’s on the market.
That is why the industry should take usability seriously and focus on the needs and easiness to use for the client. Feedback from users can help shape future developments and service enhancements, and IFAs should be routinely involved in testing and prototyping.
A good example might be a flexible online underwriting system that allows advisers to alter protection applications even after they have gone to policy. Advisers have been pointing out for some time that the term, medical conditions and sum assured often need to be adapted throughout the process and usually any changes mean re-keying information. It is important to listen to the users on what they want.
Mind you, elements of perceived usability will always come down to personal choice. Maybe it’s not the design of the juice carton that’s the problem after all, but my pouring technique. Just remember when you’re sitting on the floor this Christmas surrounded by wrapping paper and instructions for your children’s new toys that you can’t quite decipher: even a little usability consideration goes a long way.
Dave Mace is head of eBusiness at Friends Provident.
The comments expressed are those of the author and not those of the company he represents.IFAonline
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