How to Convince Your Clients That They Need Usability

Originally posted on March 2, 2010 Filed Under:

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Or, maybe they might give you an excited gasp. They’d been reading up on the same blogs as you when doing their research and saw a ton of people talking about “usability.” While they only knew the concept, they were ecstatic because everyone is talking about it.

Yes. The winners of The Taxonomy of Type are being announced in this article… But you need to read it to the end to find out (evil people scroll down)!

So now you’ve put together a proposal for them, calculated how much extra time and money would be involved, and handed it off to then. Now that excitement turned into a confused glare. “You mean all that usability stuff is going to cost me more money?” It seems obvious to you. You’ve got to put in tons of extra hours setting up interviews, meetings – not to mention if you choose a remote hosting platform like ClickTale or UserZoom that will cost a ton of extra money.

It’s tough to get a client on board with the added costs of working with users to create a usable and experience-driven website, especially if you’re just starting out and the majority of your clients are start-ups or family members. While you’d love to grab a copy of Don’t Make Me Think and quiz them on every chapter, you know it’s rude.

Sure, that’s a great follow-up for clients – suggest them some reading, that is – but it’s your job as a usability professional to convince them they need it (you are a usability professional, aren’t you?). Anything that involves extra money is a turn-off to clients, so you need to make it worthwhile in their minds. Here are a few thoughts on how you might be able to convince your clients that usability is important (note the italics – those are your key words):

Know What You’re Selling

We’re the salespeople, in most cases. Therefore, we need to know what we’re selling. Do your reading, understand the terminology (although you probably shouldn’t use it as to not confuse your clients), and figure out a game plan for when you get in there.

Educate Them

I find one of the greatest things you can do with a client is educate them. Especially if the majority of your clients are small businesses, educating them and showing them your passion about topics can help them find that extra few hundred to do some simple usability testing. What I like to do when a client asks me for help in some sort of marketing campaign is show them blog entries online that they can read about the topic, and suggest some simple reading.

While it’s the client’s decision whether or not they want to go through all the reading, I find it always helps to provide them with actionable information to get them excited about their plans. You’ll find clients talking more in your language, and you’ll have the advantage of really showing them what you know.

Once they’re excited, they’ll surely want to spend that extra money on something that they know in their heads is worth the extra coin.

We’re Not The Users!

Explain to them that while you have your clients’ best interests in mind, that no one working on the site is a client, and that you need to involve them in the process. Explain to them that they may know the demographic they’re looking to please, but without having them along the process to get in their minds, the project may not be useful to them.

Tell Them It’ll Increase Loyalty/Sales/Traffic

There are only a few reasons websites exist. For the owner(s), or for others. Let’s face it: most of our clients come to us thinking they’re amazing because they know what SEO means, and they really, really want it. We offer it to them and they pay a good amount extra because they want more traffic.

Well, what if you were to tell your client that usability testing not only would improve traffic and could create a more SEO-friendly website, but it could also create readership and customer loyalty, as well as increase sales through simplifying processes?

Be Sneaky About It

If a client doesn’t like you charging more for usability – try charging a little extra for design and development to balance things out. That way, when you throw in all that usability work, they’ll get on board with it and want to spend that extra money (especially since you threw them a “huge” deal and gave it to them for “free”).

T.E.T.O.

You’ve heard it before. Test Early. Test Often. Figure out a plan to test before launch, and a plan to keep testing to ensure that testing is continued. Your client needs to know that in doing this, you can ensure the website is working for their clients. It could be working for you and the client both using the latest version of FireFox, but if 75% of your users are using Internet Explorer, you need to make sure it’s working.

Sadly, unless you go to a psychic, you’ll never know until launch what your users are using, so make sure you have analytics tools set up to find out for you when you launch!

Some Things to Remember

Some clients may have the impression that as designers we do usability testing by default. While we always have to do a certain amount of usability research on our clients, we have to express to them that it involves a lot of extra work and may require a some extra budgeting for external applications. Be patient with your clients as, for some of us, it may be our clients first time with a professional designer/developer (or, a good one).

Hey – good luck! If you have any suggestions for others, why not share them in the comments below?

P.S: My friends over at UX Booth have been working on a couple of articles on how to sell usability to small and large businesses – so keep your ears to the ground for that in the next few weeks! I also posted something up there last week – have you checked it out?

Did I Win?!

Yes. I need to go through formalities first. I’d quickly like to thank our three donors of prizes:

  • Bohemian Coding for donating a copy of Fontcase. Bohemian also has some other great mac apps (SlipCover and DrawIt), and they all look beautiful and are pleasures to use. Do yourself the favour of getting trials and buying their apps – they’re worth their weight in gold!
  • Hex for donating a subscription to Subernova. Hex also runs an awesome blog called Suberapps for all you Mac (and Adobe Air!) enthusiasts. Hex constantly creates beautiful looking interfaces, and this is definitely shown in Subernova!
  • Mark Batty Publisher for donating a copy of Type, Trends and Fashion! Mark Batty has a long list of other excellent books that not only look stunning, but cover some important topics!

I’d also like to thank the Typophile community for their thoughts and my team for helping me put together the awesome content and the beautiful design! Since I have your attention, please don’t forget to follow @thephuse on Twitter. We post our favourite articles 8 times a day, 5 days a week. If you have any questions or anything, you can always get in touch with us there, or via our contact form. We’re in the habit of posting something on the blog once a week, and we would love it if you followed our RSS feed as well!

I know that’s a lot to ask – but (we like to think) our articles are amazing, and this won’t be the last time we’ll be giving out prizes!

Okay, I’ve teased you enough… Drum roll please!

And the Winners Are…

Congratulations to all the winners! You will be DM’d by the end of the day with further instructions on how to get your free stuff!

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James handles creative direction and business operations at The Phuse. He spends most of his time trying to bring our design and coding standards to the next level, and believes there is always room for improvement. When he isn't figuring out how to improve our work environment or make sense of Excel he enjoys playing board games with loved ones.

8 Comments (Leave One)

  • Dion Ahwai on March 2, 2010 Reply

    Although I’m not a real web designer, I recently set up a website for a family friend using a CMS and encountered similar issues. However, just like you said, I tried to teach her about usability by pointing out the flaws in her competitors websites. She responded well, as she felt that my knowledge and skills would give her a competitive advantage. But that doesn’t always work.

    The problem with getting clients to recognized the importance of having a good UX is that (older) clients who run small businesses and want to have a web presence just don’t get it. And neither do their customers. Until the masses of users who are satisfied with web 1.0 design die off, there won’t be as much of a demand for good UX design as there should be.

    btw, My client loss interest after a few months and at that point, I decided never to pursue web design professionally. I got paid though. Read enough horror stories from freelancers to get that part right :)

  • JC on March 2, 2010 Reply

    Great article…usability I think gets overlooked a lot, especially on the client end. Many times they can’t understand why it’s worth the time/effort for something that doesn’t directly increase their bottom line.

  • Colleen Cole on March 2, 2010 Reply

    Thanks for another great article. I am in the process of setting up a site for myself, and that has been one of my concerns.

    Also, thanks for the contest win!! I am looking forward to the book.

  • Rene on March 4, 2010 Reply

    Is it ironic that a site intended to improve usability, can’t be accessed without the www. prefix? I’m looking at you, userzoom.com

    • James Costa on March 4, 2010 Reply

      Hey Rene! Works fine for me… That’s weird!

  • Selvam on March 5, 2010 Reply

    nice informative

  • hermes kelly bag on July 9, 2010 Reply

    You’ve heard it before. Test Early. Test Often. Figure out a plan to test before launch, and a plan to keep testing to ensure that testing is continued. Your client needs to know that in doing this, you can ensure the website is working for their clients. It could be working for you and the client both using the latest version of FireFox, but if 75% of your users are using Internet Explorer, you need to make sure it’s working.

  • jude on September 10, 2011 Reply

    Thank you James, you’ve enriched a life.

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