Should I use it? Evaluating Usefulness through Quick-UX.

useful Usability and Usefulness are also two of the three (the third being Desirability) primary categories involved in Quick-UX and the rapid evaluation of User eXperience.

It takes more than good Usability to have a good product. Another of the key factors in evaluating the overall User eXperience, and, in this case, the Quick-UX rating of a product is Usefulness. The question that naturally follows the Usability question of “Can I use it?” is…

Should I use it?

Again, as in the quick assessment of the Usability variables, and still adhering to the goals of Quick-UX (quick assessment for summary, directional guidance, and quantitative comparison), the variables that constitute the minimal representative subset for Usefulness are…

  • Functional Expectations,
  • Error Management (how they are handled and prevented),
  • Product Differentiation (including the question, “is it Memorable?”),
  • Findability (aka search engine and bookmark “friendliness”), and
  • Credibility.

Functional Expectations

A product’s marketing, website content, branding, language and layout combine to set the consumer’s expectations of the what they should anticipate to ‘get out of’ the product. As in many broader areas of life, expectation is critical. For example, if the user is lead to believe that they will be receiving factual numbers with interactive analysis tools about a topic, but instead receive highly subjective opinions, then expectations are sorely mismatched.

To assess the value for Functional Expectations ask the question, “Is this what the target user for this site is going to expect?” The value assigned to the Functional Expectations variable is…

  • 1 if all, major and minor, Functional Expectations are met.
  • 0.5 if some of the core expectations are met. The core expectations consist of the primary implied or promised functionality of the product.
  • 0 if the overall Functional Expectations are missed. The average user will find that the behavior and content of the product is 100% not aligned with any level of expectation set by the product.

Error Management

Ideally, the user can be provided with sufficient guidance to be prevented from making Errors or choosing mistaken, time consuming, paths. Error prevention can be, for example, helpful mouse-overs with timely assistance or real-time checking of the user’s inputs (an email address for example) and making sure it is correctly entered before allowing the user to submit and proceed with their information. However, in places where Error prevention does not suffice, a product should provide clear and simple messaging that allows the user to get back on the correct path, quickly and easily.

A product that does little to mitigate errors or one that frequently churns out thorny error messages, weakens its potential Usefulness.

In evaluating, the Error Management variable is assigned the value of…

  • 1 if the chance of making a mistake is rare, resulting from broadly implemented Error prevention measures. And, should an error occur, the messaging is always easily understood, clear about how to avoid in the future, and will rapidly allow the average user to get back to their desired actions.
  • 0.5 if a few to many Errors are encountered, but can be recovered from in a straightforward manner whereby the same user will also be able to learn to avoid the same Errors in the future.
  • 0 if the same Errors are made frequently and the average user will most likely find them to be difficult to avoid.

Product Differentiation

Assessment of the Product Differentiation variable benefits from at least a minimal level of experience and knowledge of other products similar to the one being assessed. If the product undergoing Quick-UX has a unique solution it is important to understand the scope of this memorable distinction.

I recommend that when determining the value for Product Differentiation to clearly identify and state the universe of products within which this current product is being evaluated. This will allow for more consistent and repeatable results.

Computed a little bit differently than many of the other Quick-UX variables, Product Differentiation’s final value is represented by the sum of the identified differentiating elements. If there are found to be no memorable aspects to the product, the variable is assigned the value of 0, otherwise…

  • 0.2 is added if one of the points of Product Differentiation can be found to be its user interface
  • 0.2 is added if the product distinguishes itself through its product-user interactions
  • 0.6 is added if the product provides a unique and innovative functionality / solution to the problem at hand.

Findability

Findability, within the scope of Quick-UX, values the extent to which a product can be indexed by search engines, as well as bookmarked by its users. Somewhat common with many “ajax-y” websites, the user can interact with the product, the content changes, details are loaded, but the URL stays the same as it was when the user first arrived at the site, or right after logging in. The content presented to the user, in this described scenario, is not only impossible to bookmark, but search engines are not going to be able to uncover the data if they cannot easily associate the found content with its own unique URL.

  • If a website provides an experience that simply cannot be bookmarked, where the URL stays constant throughout the experience, its Findability value is 0.
  • The Findability variable is assigned the value of 0.5 if at least part of the primary functionality of the product allows for bookmarking and search engine indexing.
  • The product achieves a value of 1 for the Findability variable if the ability to bookmark, and distinct URLs, are found to be pervasive.

Credibility

Credibility is critical within an online product. If there is no trust between the user and the product, then the Usefulness of that information becomes questionable. For example, if I am using a product that helps me choose the best bank for my money — the product must clearly communicate its veracity in the matter. In choosing the bank, I not only want to know the facts being provided to me are coming from a reputable source; I want to have confidence, through verification, that the advice is not coming from the very bank that is being recommended.

There are some very basic measures of Credibility that can be easily and quickly determined for Quick-UX, as well as in the broader and ever changing world of online products. The Credibility variable is assigned its value much like the Product Differentiation variable – via summation. The minimum value of Credibility is 0, or none. The Credibility variable adds…

  • 0.15 if no obvious typos are found throughout the product,
  • 0.175 if email contact information is provided,
  • 0.175 if telephone contact information is provided,
  • 0.25 if a physical address for the location of the business is provided,
  • 0.125 if there is an “About Us” page that contains bios about the members of the team behind the product, and
  • 0.125 if, on the “About Us” page, alongside the Bios, direct contact information to each of the individuals listed can be found.

Quick & Useful

Taken all together, these variables (Functional Expectations, Error Management, Product Differentiation, Findability, and Credibility) represent the Usefulness category of Quick-UX for the evaluated product. When looking at an entire product, the question “Should I use it?” represents only 1 of the 3 core components (Usability, Usefulness, Desirability) of a Quick-UX evaluation – a sure-fire, rapid way to obtain concrete and comparable means by which to assess a single product or compare its strengths and weaknesses to other products.

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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About Jeremy Horn

Jeremy Horn is an award-winning, product management veteran with thirteen years of experience leading and managing product teams. Jeremy has held various executive and advisory roles, from founder of several start-ups to driving diverse organizations in online services, consumer products, and social media. As founder of The Product Group, he has created the largest product management meetup in the world and hosts the annual awarding of The Best Product Person. Jeremy can currently be found pioneering the next generation of content management and sharing at Viacom, acting as creator and instructor of the 10-week product management course at General Assembly, and mentoring at Women 2.0 and Lean Startup Machine. Follow Jeremy on twitter @theproductguy or his blog at http://tpgblog.com.

27 thoughts on “Should I use it? Evaluating Usefulness through Quick-UX.

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  3. …after the functions, expectations, and comparisons categories have been fulfilled, the usability and usefulness of product can certainly be determined….your last paragraph said it best.

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