Key Role of Usability Featured in New Report on E-Content Value

Toronto, January 22, 2002 — High usability, coupled with
high business content, creates a winning situation for any e-content application, while
poor usability leads to financial loss, says a new report delivered to members of the
e-Content Institute. “Usability: Discovering The Value Link” provides an
analysis of the metrics behind the challenge of creating an e-Content application — to be
both useful and usable.

The Report contains a blueprint showing how usage behavior
contributes to online performance, in an interplay with customer value metrics, profiling
variables and business metrics. “Usability influences actual costs and returns on
investment. It’s more than an altruistic show of faith to the prospective user
community,” said the report’s author, Arnab Guha of Phase 5 Consulting.
“Usability is at the heart of the delivery of value, because it means the achievement
of specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction.”

The Report notes that the online experience is determined
by factors that can range far beyond the parameters of the computer screen. The user’s
experience is tempered by the expectations he or she have brought with them, based on the
promise of value created by elements such as ads, content expectations and public
relations. The online experience then largely determines whether the promise of that value
will be confirmed or denied. The users assess the application not just as an application
per se, but as a product of their expectations and experiences with the application.

In the light of its pivotal position, the interface must fulfill five key functions:

  1. Articulate the purpose of the online offering.
    (Answer the question: Why does this application exist; what does it DO?)

  2. Clarify the scope of the offering.
    (Answer the question: How much does it do?)

  3. Clarify the organization of the offering.
    (Answer the question: How do the parts relate to each other?)

  4. Articulate the value proposition of the offering.
    (Answer the question: What are the benefits of this application versus others (both offline and online)
    that I might use?)

  5. Clarify the target audience of the offering.
    (Answer the question: Does it apply to me?)

For each of these important functions, the key challenge of
the interface is to ensure the integration of the physiological and the mechanical, and
the psychological and the cybernetic intelligence into the optimum online experience. Each
of these challenges is discussed in detail in the report.

The three factors that most often stand in the way of good usability design are:

  1. Design process divorced from users — Not enough interface
    designers incorporate the user’s viewpoint throughout the design process, being content to
    give the user a perfunctory consideration after the design is complete. Discovering
    conceptual design flaws at this late stage usually means the problems are too expensive
    and time-consuming to fix, and the problems are then ignored.

  2. Institutional assumptions and biases — Application
    designers often project their own technical terms and deep understanding of the
    application onto the design, instead of connecting in plain English. This impedes the
    user’s understanding, and subverts the articulation of the online value.

  3. Non-holistic approach to design — Especially prevalent in
    Intranet sites, this flaw is created when an application grows by accretion, with silos of
    information being created by different groups. Even experts can get lost in trying to
    negotiate separately formed content bins, which leads to a loss of competitive advantage.

In addition to these strategic lapses, the Report identifies and describes seven tactical
issues that affect usability.

The report also provides two sample frameworks of how to
measure the contribution of usability to value. The most effective way for companies to
test the usability of their e-Content applications, Mr. Guha advised, is to arrange for a
targeted group of new users to go through a set of specific tasks, filming and documenting
the results. “That way, you go behind the statistics on page traffic, and find out
where the fall-off and blockages occur. In one instance, for example, a particular page
was receiving a huge number of hits – but the live test showed that users were being sent
there by a design flaw, and they then had no way of getting out of the page. Only live
analysis can show up your own assumptions and achieve your desired design.”

In the first report (e-Content at the Crossroads) usability
was identified as an important piece of the value equation for enterprise e-content
resources. The third report in the series will be delivered at the Information Highways
Conference on March 26 & 27, 2002. “Maximizing Value” will analyze value in
the context of enterprise information and content management, and reveal the drivers of
value among users of e-content products and services.

About the E-Content Institute

The E-Content Institute is a learning and networking community for the e-content industry
– organizations that provide knowledge and e-business software and information products
for Canadian public and private sector enterprise customers. The Institute provides a
forum for innovation and an exchange of ideas through industry events, briefings and
networking sessions, reports, an expert database, a Web site, and other member-driven
services. Members of the E-Content Institute include Bell Globemedia, Communications
Canada, CISTI, The Canadian Press, Canada NewsWire, Cedrom-SNi, divine; Factiva, HKA Data Processing,
Humber College; IHS/Micromedia, Infomart Ltd., Microsoft Canada, NewsEdge, Rogers iMedia, and Statistics Canada.

For more information on the Institute or the coming Information Highways Conference please
click on the following Web site and navigate to the topics:

For more information please contact David Shinwell at:
Phone: 416-488-7372
Email: [email protected]