Yes, make me think! (but only once...)

Despite years of investment in time and money by usability professionals in improving the user experience of their companies and clients, there are very few companies that delight and retain companies as effectively as Apple through compelling user interface interaction and experience design.

Why? Is Apple simply a deity that we can admire and aspire to, perhaps try to copy but never reach its Olympian heights?

Or is there something else preventing us from going beyond “good enough” user interface experience design?

To answer the question, lets analyze what an organization tries to achieve by investing in improving the user experience and usability of its products and services:

  1. Delighting prospects and customers. If it can achieve this goal, then sales and marketing becomes a much easier process, so this effort should be considered as an investment and measured by its ROI;
  2. Retaining customers. For the cost of customer acquisition to be justified, as organizations we need to ensure that the lifetime value of a customer is higher than the cost of acquisition; the churn/retention rate plays a key role in this. This should also be considered as a sales and marketing investment and measured by its ROI;
  3. Minimizing customer support costs. By reducing the number of calls and queries that relate to the usage of a product or service, a good usability design can have a big impact on the bottom line.

However, although a good usability will achieve the objective of minimizing customer support costs, it is not enough to delight and retain customers. For that, you need not just good usability but a good user experience.

So what does Apple do? Do they focus on Usability, on User Experience, or on both? Is there a trade-off between the two? And why is it that so many companies out there have a good usability, but a mediocre user experience, at least when compared to Apple?

It is frequently claimed that Apple products are “intuitive”. As mentioned in a previous post, this is not the case. In fact, Apple products are frequently revolutionary, and it is hard to reconcile that term with intuitive.

Think about it: Pinching fingers together to make something smaller, spreading them apart to make something larger, using a mouse to point and click. All revolutionary, but not intuitive innovations.

What Apple does do, and very well, is ensure that its user interface interaction design innovations are consistently and coherently applied throughout the UI.

In other words, if I make the effort in learning how to use a new UI innovation, I can be sure that I will only have to think/work once, and thereafter it will seem intuitive, when in fact it has simply become a learned subconsciouss process.

Furthermore, since I made an effort to “learn” the new UI interaction design, I am now “invested” in the product or service. I will thereafter evangelize and become a very loyal customer, as long as the effort I made is not betrayed by a non-consistent set of UI rules (think of the differences and inconsistencies between excell, word and powerpoint…).

In other words, I become a fanatically loyal customer, in direct proportion to the effort I made to learn the new rules/innovation.

Bottom line? If you want to minimize customer support costs, focus on usability.

But if you also want to maximize customer delight and retention, focus on an innovative and coherent user experience.

Don’t feel afraid to innovate, and don’t worry if this may force your users to learn a new trick. Just make sure they only have to learn it once, and never have to unlearn it while using your product or service.