From Usability to Usability €. What is the return?


image: bresslergroup

When you talk about ROI (Return on Investment), of usability in a company, applied to a product or a service, several questions arise:

  • What is the real value of usability?
  • How are your metrics calculated?
  • What resources do you need to quantify it?

In this article we intend to address these issues by clarifying some concepts, suggesting practices to be implemented, finally, illustrating with some examples.


The confusion between terms like “User Experience (UX)” and “Usability” is frequent. While UX is a comprehensive definition that covers all aspects of user interaction with the brand, its services or end products, usability is directly related to the observation and quantification of performance (effectiveness and efficiency), the learning process and satisfaction during the interaction or use of a particular interface or product at certain points in its development process. Simply put, we can consider UX as the emotional side of a service or product, and Usability as its most rational and methodical side.


Image translation:

Rational | Emotional

Usability User Experience

Observation | Task performance | Satisfaction questionnaire | Interaction | Experience quality


For a product to be truly successful, the design must be user-centered – taking into account its needs, capabilities and limitations – but should reflect the company’s business objectives. For this,

usability teams should be responsible for fueling the user-centered design process as well as collaborating directly with the implementation teams including usability practices and metrics in the development process.


It is also important to differentiate the concepts of “Marketing research” and “User Research“. While the former refers to the definition of market trends and definition of target audiences, creating consumer needs and new business models; the second refers to the set of empirical methodologies that gather information about the user, quantify and analyze behavior, and more objectively identify their needs and characteristics.

Sell Usability

In 2002, Don Norman suggested that Usability analysts learn to convert their work into ROI. On the other hand, Oracle Corporation’s Daniel Rosenberg criticizes this cost vs. gain approach, referring to it as reducing. However, in some companies, the implementation of usability and user-experience projects are dependent on previous ROI reviews, as is the case with eBay.

When a project’s budget begins to face contingencies, it is usually the usability services that are the first to be waived – that is, considering that they are included at all in the project definition phase. Jim Ross recently said that delivering these services was like maintaining a healthy diet or exercising: Everyone recognizes its importance, but most do not do it. The justifications range from “I know the users and I know what they want” to “then we explain better in the manual”.

Based on these assumptions, there are two main ways to demonstrate the real value that usability can have in a business: (1) translate usability into ROI, e.g. to realize financial gains and / or (2) show, through examples, the benefits of applying a user-centered design.


Image translation:

ROI: benefits of applying a user-centered design

  • Increases product sales;
  • Reduces return rates;
  • Increases the profit rate on deliveries, services and support contracts;
  • reduces support and support line cost;
  • builds a bran;
  • better product reviews;
  • reduces development cost.

Quantify Usability

Quantifying usability is particularly important because it is the most effective way of communicating with the stakeholders of the product or service being evaluated. In addition, the development of metrics and tools allow us to compare different solutions or to estimate the magnitude and impact of a usability problem.

These metrics become even more useful if they can directly illustrate and communicate usability ROI, whether through increased sales, lead creation, adoption of the product or technology, or customer satisfaction itself that can be translated into identification and loyalty with the brand.

A common estimate is that each dollar invested in usability in the design phase of the project would cost $ 10 in the development phase and $ 100 in the implementation phase.

The usual arguments are to include usability as early as possible in the product development process, but even when applied at the end of the process, a summative test can identify many problems and give 70 to 100 improvement recommendations.

Usability implementation costs mainly go through salaries, operation, equipment, place for testing, recruitment and payment to participants, and planning time. These costs can be compared to the “frustration costs” derived from poor design of the product or service, such as increased expenses, lost revenues, lost productivity, and wasted development time.

The gains are extended by increased online and offline sales; in the case of websites, increased conversions from visitor to consumer, increased number of visitors, of time on site, return on advertising; reduction in customer support; reduction of training needs, documentation and maintenance; increased confidence in the brand, product or service. You can also use performance measures such as the time required to perform tasks such as login, client plug-in creation, etc.

Case Studies

The 300 million button

On the website of a large online trading company, a page had a common form, with the “Login” or “Register” fields. This form appears after selecting the items to be purchased and clicking on the “Checkout” button. It appeared before they included the information to pay for the product.

The goal was to allow repeat customers to buy faster, and “new customers would not mind making a record.”

Usability tests were done, and it turned out that, in fact, new customers really cared about registration. The form only made the purchases faster to a very small number of customers, that is, the form had the opposite effect: it prevented sales.

The proposed solution was simple. The “Register” button was removed and the “Continue” button was inserted with the message “It is not necessary to create an account to purchase products on our site. Click the “Continue” button to proceed to checkout. To make your purchases in the future even faster, you can create an account during checkout. ”

After the change, the number of customers completing purchases increased by 45%, resulting in an extra $ 15 million in the first month.

The “Search” button at IBM

On IBM’s website, the most commonly used feature was “Search” since the site was difficult to navigate. The second was “Help,” because research was usually ineffective. The solution went through a 10-week effort to redesign the site, which involved more than 100 employees with an estimated cost of millions of dollars.

In the first week after launching the new site, the use of the “Help” button decreased by 84% and sales increased by 400%.

Walmart’s $ 1.85 billion dollar error

In 2008, the North American chain Wallmart launched the project “Impacto” that aimed at a great change in strategy and user experience inside its stores. Customers mentioned in questionnaire to prefer halls with fewer products, and more free space. Wallmart reviewed its variety policy at low prices, and reduced inventory in stores by 15%. In this remodeling, they removed the products placed in the center of the corridors, some storefronts and shortened the shelves.

In addition to the cost of remodeling the infrastructure, there was an immediate loss in sales, which totalled $ 1.85 billion.

The need to observe users interacting with the product, not just questioning it, remains latent in these examples. “Know your user” should be the motto of any service or product.

Usability in Practices and Processes

The earlier and iterative the process, the more impact it will have on development practices and the more obvious the ROI will become.


Know the company, the processes and the business model

We understand that in many companies the way to reach these numbers is not straightforward or easy to calculate, because in some businesses or products the results may not be as tangible. To do this, in the information and needs assessment phase, the business objectives and development process must be clearly communicated to the usability team and the metrics discussed.

Definition of usability requirements

User needs should be “translated” into system / product requirements from the beginning of the process, into the requirements phase or into an initial sprint, depending on the project management methodology used.

Results presentation

The usability team should deliver results in a straightforward and quick-to-understand way that addresses the user’s needs but at the same time addresses specific issues related to business objectives and ideally speeds the development process. In this way the results should be transmitted in a simple, objective and with an adequate timing regarding the project planning. The earlier and iterative the process, the more impact it will have on development practices and the more obvious the ROI will become. All stakeholders, both those responsible for development and project management, should be included in this process because they bring different objectives, priorities and indicators to the discussion.


Vu, K., & Proctor, R. (2011). Handbook of human factors in Web design.




About the authors:


Joana Vieira

  • Usability analyst of D.I.A Perceção, Interação e Usabilidade @CCG

    Graduated in Experimental Psychology, she is currently an usability analyst in the field of applied research Perception, Interaction and Usability of the Center for Computer Graphics. She has been involved in product certification projects at usability level and user-centered design; integrates the Human Factors team of automotive HMI, Health and ICT projects, having carried out validation studies of icons and gestures, among other methodologies; At the moment she is a PhD student in Ergonomics at the Faculty of Human Motricity (ErgoVR, FMH, University of Lisbon), where she investigates sound warning signs in shared work environments.


Sandra Mouta

  • Development Coordinator of D.I.A Perceção, Interação e Usabilidade @CCG

    PhD in Experimental Psychology and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Minho, she is currently Coordinator of the Development of Applied Research Domain “Perception, Interaction and Usability” at the Center for Computer Graphics in Guimarães. Coordinates a team of Human Factors and Usability, with competences in the area of perception, interaction, motor execution and behavioural analysis, applied in projects in the topics of Transportation, Health, HMI and TICs.

    She holds a Specialization in Human Engineering from the University of Minho and was a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Basic Psychology at the University of Barcelona and at INESC TEC. She remains a research collaborator in the Visualization and Perception Laboratory (Centro ALGORITMI, Univ. Do Minho).