By Peter Eckert
Originally published in: Fast Company / Co.DESIGN, March 29, 2012
Apple has shown that consumers are willing to pay a premium for products that are easy to use. So why do companies resist putting money into UI upfront?
In their rush to build more features into their electronic devices, companies often lose sight of a key ingredient: basic usability. User-interface design (UI), the art of simplifying complexity into meaningful user experiences, is an increasingly important competitive advantage for technology companies launching new products, as people from consumers to business users seek solutions that offer as much intuitiveness as they do function.
Today, usability is a must-have for optimal return on investment with new technologies. Companies focusing on user-experience (UX) and user-interface design in product and application development create better solutions, improving revenue, loyalty, and market share. Numerous industry studies have stated that every dollar spent on UX brings in between $2 and $100 dollars in return. Already, household names such as Samsung, Charles Schwab, Motorola, Logitech, and Dell are leveraging UX and interface design in the development of their products and applications–with strong results.
While the research has been out for some time, many companies still dramatically underestimate the importance of ease of use and focus too heavily on features and functions. Some have learned the lesson the hard way. Think back to 2006, when Microsoft introduced Zune, a portable MP3 player designed to compete with the iPod. While feature-rich, Zune failed due in part to a more complex interface, which couldn’t compete with the simplicity of Apple’s design.
With options that are user-friendly on the market, frustrated consumers are not going to overlook technological kinks. When a product gets singled out in the media for poor performance, it goes viral and quickly deters potential customers from not only the new product but potentially the company’s non-related products. Thus, companies face losing brand credibility, revenue opportunities, and entire markets. With the millions of dollars it takes in R&D–from the hard costs of manufacturing to the less definable costs of resources and people–the losses mount quickly with an unsuccessful product. Complications caused by design oversights have cost companies billions of dollars.
DRIVING MARKET SHARE AND REVENUE
In a marketplace of all too similar offerings, whether it is a website or electronic device, it is easy to see how design focused on user experience is a key competitive differentiator. The market is cluttered with “me too” products. In the last year alone, at least half a dozen tablet computers hit the market, along with three times as many new smartphones and countless MP3 players. The devices that offer simplicity over complexity win market share.
As we have seen with Apple’s success, creating products that offer as much simplicity as functionality drives market share and premium pricing. Recent studies validate this strategy. Forrester Research finds that “implementing a focus on customers’ experience increases their willingness to pay by 14.4 percent, reduces their reluctance to switch brands by 15.8 percent, and boosts their likelihood to recommend your product by 16.6 percent.”
Take, for example, Logitech, which, like Apple, delivered a simply superior product, the Harmony One universal remote control, that consumers were willing to pay for. Not long ago, the company reexamined how people truly use remotes and decided to move away from device-centric controls to activity-based controls. Based on research of what consumers truly needed, a simple-to-use interface solution was developed that makes controlling home entertainment easier with a full-color touchscreen, an intuitive button layout, and an exceptionally ergonomic design. While the product is more expensive than other devices, Logitech has won the lion’s share of the market because its product offers unparalleled usability.
INVEST IN UX FROM THE GET-GO
Racing to market with greater levels of functionality isn’t going to ensure dominance; solutions must offer users an intuitive and tailored user interface. Companies are recognizing that it is far less expensive to prevent a problem or usability issue from occurring in the first place than to fix it later in a redesign process. In a marketplace with very little differentiation among products and increasing complexity, companies that embrace usability early on will drive revenue, productivity, and customer loyalty.