Useful and Usable

Back when I was in architecture school, I was introduced to the phrase “dead cat corners”. It was how our design professor described areas in floor plan that were basically un-usable, or, in her opinion, only a place to throw dead cats.  This was probably one of first time that I became aware that things need to be both useful and usable. A room that has a floor plan with “corners” less than 90 degrees is not always the most useful.

Do I want an app for that?

In the world of app and website design, too many times people forget about the usefulness. Sure, I can design an app to satisfy today’s mantra, “Isn’t there an app for that?”, but I think we owe it to ourselves to make sure we really want that app. This short posting summarizes that point quite nicely. In 2011 Jeff Sauro wrote an article about this topic. In it, he cautions the reader about knowing the difference between the two and why people may use something that has poor usability but deemed valuable.


While this generally falls in the realm of product managers, I think everyone can contribute to the conversation. Designers with the help of UX Researchers can utilize their usability testing sessions to insert some assessment of usefulness. Using analytics tools we can round out the story by determining usage, click-throughs, and, for retailers, increase in conversion.

The important part in this is really harnessing the voice of the customer and eliminating personal opinions from shaping product design. We can move to jointly solve problems and eliminate the “I believe” or “I think” and replace it with, “the data shows” or “our customers are telling us”.

 How do you determine usefulness of your designs? What is your process for evaluating usefulness and embracing your customers’ feedback?

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2 Responses to “Useful and Usable”

  1. Michelle Hierzer
    March 4, 2014 at 2:32 pm #

    “…harnessing the voice of the customer and eliminating personal opinions from shaping product design.” So true! I want to create an app (just to create an app) that is a compilation of personal opinions.

    On on serious note, do we have enough data experts that truly understand the findings?

  2. Karol Czyrka →
    March 19, 2014 at 1:01 pm #

    We are getting better at tagging and other data collection methods, but we have a way to go. For instance, I recently captured our buy flow experience in a diagram that compiled a large number of qualitative findings from end to end usability testing and heuristic evaluations. Next up is working with our component teams to embed tagging to enable more click through data.