The second usability wave

When the dot com bubble burst, many web design and development agencies went through very troubled times. During such economic downturns clients have less (or no) budget for major projects. All the indications are that 2008 could be a difficult year for many businesses and this will have an effect on web design and development agencies.
But it isn’t all dreary news. During the aftermath of the dot com bubble, I spent 2.5 years working for Flow Interactive. In 2001 Flow was a small user centred design consultancy, but by 2003, while the general trend amongst web agencies was retrenchment, we grew. What’s more we didn’t just grow a little bit, we expanded by around 300%.
I don’t think there was any particularly magic secret about what we did. We certainly didn’t grow through private investment, we grew organically to meet client demand.

Why does demand for user centred design grow in difficult times?

The simple answer is that UCD offers a range of services that offer great bang for their cost. Techniques such as usability testing and expert evaluations by a usability expert, when combined with web metrics, can help make and save very large chunks of money.
For example, usability testing I’ve conducted for companies such as British Telecom (UK) and Yellow Pages (UK) helped identify and quickly increase completion rates by 100%.
Now that isn’t to say that usability testing can be expected to increase completion rates by 100% every time, but if you’re an organisation looking to increase revenue without spending big bucks, now might be a good time to look at your web metrics and get some usability testing done.
Maybe 2008 isn’t the year for that 6 month ethnographic study afterall, but I for one will be re-polishing my usability testing and expert evaluation skills.
If you’d like to me to help you out with analysing your web metrics, or by conducting usability testing/an expert evalaution on your site, drop me a line at iain.barker at gmail.com.
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