Usefulness vs. Usability
Dr. John Morkes

Q: In usability tests, people say our application is easy to use. But in the field, very few users are actually using the app. What should we do?

Your user adoption could be low for many reasons. A common reason is lack of usefulness. That’s what we’ll discuss here.

Usability testing typically focuses on how easily and efficiently users can complete their tasks. Those are important. Just as important is “usefulness testing” to evaluate how valuable specific features, functionality, content, data, etc. are to your users. The perceived usefulness of your offering should be greater than the perceived value of your competitors’ offerings and other available methods (for example, a whiteboard and Excel often are pretty valuable).

Surveys, interviews and focus groups are great for collecting data on the usefulness of proposed features, etc. We also get great data from testing static, early-stage prototypes with users in one-on-one sessions and asking about usefulness. The think-aloud method works well for testing usefulness as well as usability. We also ask users to rate the usefulness or value of proposed features on a scale from 1 to 10.

Adding features does not equal adding value. Beware of “featuritis.” The power of many applications and websites is lost because too many unwanted features clutter the screen and reduce usability of desired features. As I type this, I’m thinking about you, Microsoft Word.