Unusable products have a huge impact on business

Did you ever wanted to throw your phone, computer, remote, microwave or any other product out of the window? Did you therefore not recommend that product or stopped using or even buying it?

Users abandon product every day. Even though products intentionally are created to make our lives easier.

But what can we do about it? The answer is simple: learn from the end-user and design accordingly.

Film (c) by Barleycorn55

In a nutshell

The first reason for a product existence is that it fulfills a certain need. To fulfill this need it must be used. But with the growing complexity of (consumer electronic) products, it is challenging to create something effective, efficient and satisfactory at the same time.

The illustration on the left shows that nicely, especially how all stakeholders can have an (unintenional, but negative) effect on the final product.

Luckily, creating good products becomes easier when we locate the user, his context and actual use of a product in the center of the entire developing process. This way of working is called User Centered Design and has a great return on investment (roi).

Illustration from Cartouche.ch  (original drawings go back to the 1960s)

What is all this user stuff?

Everything around us is designed to be used, in order to serve in a specific need. Products, software, architecture, services, you name it: we create our own world to make it a better place for ourselves.

How we use a product (I am just gonna say product now for all the above) determine if, when and how we reach the goals that it was intended to. Good design is therefore effective, efficient and satisfactory (the three elements of Usability).

But we humans are no machines, we strongly bond with the products around us (do you love or hate your car, shoes, kitchenware or smartphone?). The way we feel about our products before, during and after product use determine how we experience the product, the people connected to it and, ultimately, the brand that put it in the market.

Notable is that these experiences are in large part influenced by the context in which we use (or have used) the product (are you in a hurry or have you just made a promotion?). These three elements contribute to the User Experience of product use.

Usability refers to..

..the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use” (ISO 9241-11).
Or in common language: is the user able to use the product?

User Experience refers to..

..a person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service” (ISO 9241-210).
It is in fact how people feel and act thanks to the product.

What about some examples? 

In this section I will collect examples of failed products when it comes to usability and user experience. For now, most of the material is in Dutch.
So hold on, this will be updated on a non-periodic basis (;


When designing products that are of high importance in the daily life of people, such as an ATM, it is important to include all sorts of end users in the process.

This clearly did not happen with the design of this ATM, as shown by this video made by Tommy Edison


Werk.nl is de Nederlandse vacaturebank voor werkzoekenden, aangeboden door het UWV. Echter zit het vol problemen en is de website daardoor een enorme kostenpost geworden.

Zo sprak RTL met tientallen eindgebruikers die serieuze problemen ervaren met onder andere het invullen van het CV en het zoeken naar vacatures. Een hoogleraar heeft zich negatief uitgelaten over de website, alsmede een onderzoeksbureau dat zich specialiseert in vacaturesites. Ten derde is het oordeel van een expert review door Communicatiebureau Aan Zee ook niet bijster positief.

Het debacle heeft al verhitte discussies in de tweede kamer opgeleverd. Sinds 2002 is er al een bedrag van 3,1 miljard uitgegeven aan ICT bij UWV (waar de website een substantieel deel van inneemt, terwijl werk.nl mede ingezet was als kostenbesparing). De instantie heeft al aangegeven dat het tot circa 2015 problemen blijft verwachten.


Is is worth it?

Without good usability and a positive user experience, users won’t bother using a product, or even buying from the same company. Paying attention to the use and the user experience is important if you want to create a sustainable business. It will increase sales and revenues while it decreases support costs.

This is not only important when you are selling products, but also for your own employees who work with tailor-made business solutions (e.g. a travel cost and hour registration application). Good design makes your product easier and faster to use, thus increasing productivity while decreasing training and maintenance costs. In short, UCD has the following benefits:

The benefits of UCD

  • Increased sales and revenues
  • Decreased training and support costs
  • Increased customer satisfaction
  • Increased productivity
  • Decreased number of errors
  • Increased self-reliance when errors occur
  • Decreased maintenance costs
  • Decreased development time and costs

Because of these benefits you generally can expect a high Return on Investment. Leading companies such as NNgroup and IBM have shown that every euro being invested in User Centered Design returns a revenue of ten to a hundred times that, as the video on the left explains quite nicely.

Great! How can we achieve it?

We place the user and his context in the center of the development process. This is called User Centered Design, although there are many other terms flying around that kind of mean the same (in my humble opinion).

UCD is a design strategy that includes an iterative process in which a wide range of tools, methods and techniques can be applied to create usable products to determine what users truly need and design and evaluate it accordingly. Combined with the knowledge and expertise of the designer himself one can create great products that people are happy to use and (ultimately) buy.

“User-centered design is..

.. characterised by the active involvement of users and a clear understanding of user and task requirements; an appropriate allocation of function between users and technology; the iteration of design solutions; multi-disciplinary design” (ISO 13407).

Learn more with my online library on UX

Once a week, I crawl the web for great UX articles. I put them in one of the following 8 magazines, each aimed at a specific background / activity. Enjoy reading.

Thanks to all authors for writing great content!