'How do we justify, sell, and measure IA and usability?'

Notes from the New York City Information Architecture and Usability Meeting
Razorfish Offices, New York
May 3, 2001

Main points of Karen McGrane's presentation:

Comments from attendees:


"Metrics for corporate sites are difficult to create, they're not as cut and dry as e-commerce sites."

"Customers want an easy to understand package of products. Talking about design qualities isn't an affective sales technique."

"IA talks about "hard" concepts - categories, labels, search results - but the experience that users have is softer. Users have little concept of design details, they think the Internet is easy' or I'm not good at this, I'll just go shop in the store.' Perhaps we should appeal to these soft' metrics. "

"Tasks that are difficult to track using technology (click-throughs, purchases, etc.) can be tested with usability studies, just as advertising tests creative ideas with focus groups."

"Return on investment can be demonstrated by appealing to the 'process, flows, and use cases' and how they affect efficiency and revenue, referring to concrete aspects like number of staff needed to perform a task."

"Goals for redesign can be traced back to business objectives, drawing a line down to the implementation level."


"Design is sometimes a hindrance to performance, but design can certainly play a large part without hindering the design. For example, automobiles have a certain minimum usability standard, yet they vary widely in design."

"Comparing IA to autos is difficult, because the basic interaction of the web hasn't been determined yet. There's nothing like a steering wheel and pedals to rely on at Web sites."

"Rather than "cool" design, perhaps we should focus on the emotions associated with a product or experience. There are always emotions involved, and we can recognize and appeal to them."

"Unfortunately, some clients just want cool when they need more than that."

"How much does branding affect the experience? Will people pay more for a better experience, or the perception of a better brand? Is it possible to communicate this to clients?"

"A user's opinion of a web site won't affect her opinion of offline store; people don't associate the two that closely."

Within a company

"Big corporations may use business analysts to do up front research (similar research to what we do) on a big software project, but somehow are happy to skip this when it comes to web sites. Web sites seem to be perceived as a design exercise and not something more substantial."

"Reuters made a huge effort to justify usability, but the document explaining it was too big. The mentality was like old IT, generating arguments so onerous that anyone who didn't get it had trouble justifying the cost."

"To sell IA and usability, it's helpful to appeal to something people already know and acknowledge the value of. For example, if the IT department at Reuters doesn't understand the value of usability testing, then explain it in their terms. They wouldn't release code without first testing and debugging it. Just as they get the technical bugs out, we get the usability bugs out, and use a similar iterative process."

Including usability studies

"Do people make usability testing a standard part of the process? Sometimes it's even hard to sell usability testing to people on your own team."

"The expense of testing is easy for a client to cut out of the budget if it looks like a big expense, another line item, or an outsourced cost; better to do it in-house and make an inseparable part of the process."

"Quick and dirty testing may get you most of the results of full blown tests."

"Some testing is better than none."

"Offering tiered packages of testing - like Guerilla, Moderate, and Expert - helps make it easy for clients to decide what's right for them and easier for us to deliver."

"The recent press on usability and user experience is encouraging."