Several years ago, The Wall Street Journal released a mobile application. It got about 40,000 one-star reviews, out of roughly 70,000 reviews, for a two-star average.
Given the resources and talent available to such an organization, how could this have happened? And what does it mean for the rest of us, who don’t have million-dollar budgets and high-rise office suites?
Why Did the WSJ Fail So Badly?
Apparently, no one bothered to do any usability testing on the signup screens.
Epic (and hilarious) failure
One might think that something this obvious would have been caught, oh, in the mockup stage. I suspect it was all overlooked because the project was focused on new subscribers.
Ouch. There are two kinds of users for this application: new subscribers, and old subscribers. While the signup screens might make perfect sense for new subscribers, they offended existing subscribers in droves, by impliying that they had to pay again for content they were already paying for.
The lesson here is simple, and twofold:
1. pay attention to all kinds of users
The marketing team may be terribly excited about attracting new subscribers with a shiny new mobile application, but do not forget about everyone else that might use the application; they deserve some design consideration, too.
2. actually do usability testing in the appropriate context for each kind of user
A one-minute usability test with an exisiting subscriber could have prevented 40,000 unhappy customers.
So What Does This Mean to Me?
Now, you’re probably not designing a mobile application for a major newspaper. You may not be designing an application at all – but there are ‘users’ of different kinds in every business. Are you considering all of them? Are you doing any usability testing, even “thought experiments”, for them?
When you see the word “user”, think “customer”.
Perhaps you’re a web designer. Your customers use your services, and are thus “users”. You may have brand-building users who only want to make a good impression and send visitors to Google Maps to get directions to the nearest store. You may have SEO-obsessed customers who absolutely must rank #1 for the phrase “forgotten electrolyte compounding”. You may have mom-and-pop store users who are scared to death of the Internet and the only thing they want is to get it over with without getting screwed.
Do you have the same process, the same “user interface” for all of these different kinds of users?