Selling Usability by John Rhodes Book Review

Last month, the UX Brighton Book Club read Selling Usability, a new book by John Rhodes that claims to reveal the secrets to infiltrating usability and UX practises into your workplace. Having not finished the book by the time of the meeting, I missed what the UX Brighton people thought of Selling Usability, however I’m sharing my own thoughts here. I’d be interested in hearing what the UXBrighton group thought of the book, so please comment!

Essentially the book is divided into 40 short chapters, each claiming to reveal another secret about how to sneak user experience practises into your company, and how to make your position relevant to how the business works. As you can imagine, this is an important contemporary issue as still today many large multinational companies do not employ dedicated usability and user experience specialists, and it’s easy to see that the company’s products suffer because of this. Think about the last time you got lost trying to use an online bank, or had to suffer through a terrible interface on a piece of software. These are the problems that usability specialists should be fixing for their employers, and so a book like this offers a way that usability specialists can get their services recognised.

My initial impressions were that this book could easily have been a series of blog posts, due to the short nature of each chapter, and the overlapping nature of some of the topics. A large section of the book is taken up with guides on how to deal with every level of the business, from sales people, through consultants, to CEO’s. Most of this advice can be condensed to a few key points – teach them about usability, and get them to talk about UX in their own terms, by bribing them with the promise of increasing profits. These chapters, despite having different audiences, all seem rather similar.

guns and money

and if talking about money doesnt work...

Another main angle proposed by the book is changing the language you use, to one more in line with business needs. Call users ‘customers’, and translate your findings into money (i.e. ‘50% of users found this feature harder to use’ becomes ‘50% of customers couldn’t complete this form, losing us £2,000 in sales a week’). In short, hide the UX language and processes, and present results in a quantifiable manner to impress the company.

Selling Usability also advocated volunteering to do the jobs no-one wants to do, like taking notes, proofreading, or giving presentations, and give them a UX angle while writing them. The book then extends this idea to documenting finished projects, and giving them a UX focus in the write up, presenting them as case studies. Although undoubtedly an effective model to increase the reputation of usability within a company, this does seem a little.. Stalin-esque. It probably works though.

picture of stalin

one upset user is a tragedy; one million is a statistic

The book seems most snappy and useful when it moves onto miscellaneous ‘tips’ – good ideas for getting UX out there. Things like including a UX quote in your email signature, using physical examples like DVD players or remotes to illustrate UX points, including quantifiable results on your CV, or writing a newsletter. These short ideas all add up, and pique interest in usability and user experience among otherwise uninterested colleagues.

Ultimately Selling Usability does do as it claims, and helps you sneak UX and usability ideas into a business, so that people start talking and thinking about it. The book’s 40 chapters do contain a lot of helpful information, even though it seems sometimes that the book has less than 40 points, leading to repetition. However the approach advocated fails to promote the idea that UX should be integrated into every stage of a project’s development, and so I wouldn’t recommend it as a complete guide to usability in business, simply as the first stepping stone if faced with an environment hostile to usability. It’s a good start, but without moving beyond the constraints in the book, your company will never experience the full benefits that proper user experience based development can give.

150 150 Steve Bromley

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