Let me be entirely clear. Usability, accessibility, aesthetics, technology or indeed any other aspect of web design you care to mention are worthless if they do not service your business objectives.
Somebody recently asked me on formspring what the most important aspect of web design was. Without hesitation I replied business objectives even though that was not on the questioners list of possibilities.
To me this was the obvious answer. However, as soon as my answer hit twitter it became apparent I was in the minority believing this. The overwhelming response was that I should have said ‘user experience’.
The logic went something like this – if users are not happy then they will leave and you will have no business.
Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more, but people are missing the point. The reason user experience matters so much is that bad usability prevents a site meeting its business objectives.
Anybody who knows me, knows that I am passionate about accessibility, usability, design and any other aspect of web design you care to mention. However, I believe in these things not as an end in themselves but as a way of enabling a website to meet its business objectives.
I don’t make a site accessible because I believe it should be accessible. I do so because ultimately I believe it will help the site meet its business objectives.
I don’t make a site usable because I believe it is some lofty goal that should always be attained. I do so because I believe that without happy users no website will meet its business objectives.
Is this all semantics?
You may think that I am being picky and that actually this is just a matter of semantics. However, I disagree. It is a vitally important distinction. Without it we allow things like user experience to take priority over achieving business objectives.
Ultimately websites need to pay their way. This means that when user experience and business objectives truly clash then business objectives must win. Admittedly most of the time a better user experience benefits the business objectives. However that is not always the case.
Take for example an ecommerce site. Most users hate registering. They would prefer to make a transaction and then leave. However, from a business perspective we want them to register. If they register they are more likely to place a repeat order and we also have more opportunity to market to them.
If you take a pure user experience perspective need you wouldn’t force users to register. However I suggest that the business objective trumps the user experience. Admittedly you may lose a few users. However, if the benefits of registered users outweighs the lost customers then it is worth it. Obviously you do all you can to minimise that loss, but ultimately the increased profits are more important than alienating a handful of users.
Of course, you have to take the long term view. It could be argued that the handful of users might be very vocal in their dislike of your site and alienate the others. Equally you might reduce customer satisfaction in those who do purchase, reducing the likelihood they buy again. These are all valid points. However, my point is that these things only matter if they damage the business objective of increasing sales.
So go on, tell me I am wrong? I dare you! -)