Usability Is Not Strategic

Todd Wilkens has an interesting post over at the Adaptive Path blog entitled Why usability is the path to failure. The ensuing discussion in the comments is just as good.

I must say that I agree with Todd’s take on usability. Sure, it’s important but it’s really a baseline for any functional design. Since everyone ultimately wants to be usable, there’s nothing usability people aren’t doing or saying that competitors aren’t either. It’s not a differentiator.
It kinda reminds me of Michael Porter’s take on corporate strategy. He essentially says that operational effeciency is important, but not strategic. It’s operational. It’s something everyone strives for, even your competitors. Can’t find the full text of Michael Porter’s “What is Strategy?” article free online, so here’s the summary and order form for the article on HBR.

“Michael Porter argues that operational effectiveness, although necessary to superior performance, is not sufficient, because its techniques are easy to imitate. In contrast, the essence of strategy is choosing a unique and valuable position rooted in systems of activities that are much more difficult to match.”

About Jim Kalbach

Head of Customer Experience at MURAL


  1. I disagreed.

    And while Michael Porter is brilliant, most of his work is pre-Internet, and it’s a very different world now. I look to people like John Hagel to update our strategic thinking. The point of service delivery can be a giant strategic advantage, whether it’s an online company like Google or a traditional company like jetBlue.

  2. James Kalbach

    [Victor commented:]
    “We could say that *cultures of usability* are a competitive advantage.”

    Maybe we have to agree on what we mean by “usabilty” — Big Usability or Little Usability? I don’t see the usability community talking about changing organizational culture and such. Looking back at conference programs for the UPA, you don’t see this on the agenda. In fact, I found this presentation: “Management Will Never Go For It… Make It Happen Anyway!” Of course, there is a ton of stuff on ROI, but that’s not about changing city hall–it’s about getting funding.

    So, if you had such a “culture of usability”, you’d probably have an organization that values design and broader user experience in general. It’s the bigger Design Thinking picture that’s strategic, not usability per se, and I think that’s Todd’s point.

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