Monitoring the online customer experience, by Mark Hurst.
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Usability Zinger

Wednesday, June 20, 2001
by Mark Hurst

This week offered some excitement for CHI-Web, a mailing list of usability practitioners and information architects. Someone posted the following quote by Don Norman, a highly respected member of the community (emphasis is mine):

Usability is always secondary. It's never the most important thing about an experience. I will accept poor usability if I get what I need, if the total experience is great. I will reject perfect usability if I am not rewarded with a useful, engaging experience.

Of course this is correct: as we've said in this space for years, usability is just one component of the customer experience. An important component, especially in technology, but not the only one. It's nice to hear Don Norman spreading the message.

Some usability practitioners don't like to hear that anything is more important than practicing usability - and hearing this from a venerable practitioner raises the stakes. So I was happy to see that the ensuing discussion on CHI-Web showed several people agreeing with the quote. (Read the first post here; to advance, click the light bulb with the right arrow; to complain about the toolbar's poor usability, complain directly to CHI-Web.)

This whole episode reminds me of what my friend Cathy has said about her comedy performances:

If the audience laughs, I'm funny.

Customer experience work is similar. If customers' criteria and customers' stated tasks are met by the site, then it's a good experience. That's different from designing a site to conform to rules, consistencies, and tasks that developers assume customers will like. A good experience is determined by the customers, not by learned practitioners who try to make the rules by themselves.

Related article: Mark Hurst interviewed by Lou Rosenfeld (August 30, 2000)

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