Published on March 25, 2007

This post was previously on the Pathfinder Software site. Pathfinder Software changed its name to Orthogonal in 2016. Read more.

What if you brought in users to test your application and the final result was one big collective yawn. It’s not that the product wasn’t usable — oh, maybe some minor tweaks to the presentation layer could improve things, but overall all tasks were completed fairly well. No, it’s more that the users had no desire to use your product because, well, because quite frankly it didn’t answer their needs.  In short, the proposition was wrong from the very beginning.

To steal a quote from disambiguity: “If you’ve got a flaw in your thinking at the top of the chain, then no amount of surface usability is going to save your product.

I know it sounds fundamental, but the fact is that the value proposition you’re offering needs to solve real problems for real users. Concepts are great and brainstorming is fun, but if the user is not an integral part from the very beginning, they may decide they don’t want any part of the result.

The good news is that the value proposition can easily be validated by conducting user research early on in the project cycle. Talk to the people you’re designing for, understand their needs and check to see whether or not your ideas and concepts are on the same page with their goals.

Usability starts at the very beginning, with user research. For a minimal amount of time invested at the start of a project, you’ll save yourself a lot of wasted time wandering down the path of functionality that solves the wrong problems or even worse, is not even wanted by the users.