User adoption is more than a buzzword – it’s what drives many of our decisions along the road from solution conception to implementation.
Before tackling the challenge of user adoption, one must answer the question: “what if we are successful?” If the user successfully adopts a given solution, what are the intended outcomes? We call these business objectives.
Adoption is for not unless we’ve defined how the business will benefit. While there are whole articles devoted to writing good business objectives, I’ll summarize a of couple key points:
Once we’ve defined the intended result of a successfully adopted business solution, then we can determine the best path to get there. This road to adoption is paved with four kinds of criteria. An adoptable solution could be described as: useful, usable, desirable, and adaptable. Each of these are served through understanding user needs, habits, and mental models (which is why we’re strong advocates of research and testing.
Usefulness is chief among its peers, as it represents the quality of content or functionality. If a solution succeeds in the other three areas but fails in being useful, then there is no hope for user adoption. Usefulness is also the criteria that most closely serves your business objectives.
For example, if you’re building a corporate intranet, then every document, form or workflow should potentially satisfy a business need. Can we benefit from a centralized repository of HR documentation? We’d be confident that we could if we have a requirement to reduce the amount of time employees spend on critical but non-billable activities.
A usable solution is a tool in the hands of your users, empowering them to be happier, savvier, and more productive. Or at least it can, presuming that the solution is…
If usefulness answers the question, “does this serve a need?” then usability asks, “how well?”. Usability can decrease the time and energy necessary to accomplish a task. Have you ever struggled to find an important document? That’s a usability problem. Have you ever encountered an obnoxious error message without any idea how to resolve it? That’s a usability problem.
Creating a usable solution means that we’re not needlessly taxing a user’s time, energy, and attention. This allows that user to do better work. Subconsciously or otherwise, we tend to avoid tools that are frustrating and energy-depleting. We enjoy and gravitate towards tools that “just work”. That sense of enjoyment is a strong component of adoption. Tools often reflect their users (one core tenant of brand loyalty), which is why the tools we use the most aren’t simply usable, they’re also…
Often, in crafting business solutions, we pretend that our users are purely logical creatures. We assume that as long as we provide the right tools, people will use them. What this assumption ignores is that, beneath the surface, our emotions are often influencing and dictating many of our choices. We often follow our gut and only later rationalize our decision logically. Ask any brand enthusiast why they choose their brand-of-choice over the competition for an example of this.
Desirability isn’t the same thing as “visual appeal”. Visually appealing design has certain core tenants that are useful, but there is also a subjectivity that we need to acknowledge. Visual and interaction design decisions subconsciously communicate to a user certain values. It could inform a user that the solution exists to provide them quick resources so they can get back to their primary job. Or it could invite them to explore and learn more about their corporate culture, thus improving employee loyalty.
To illustrate this point, consider two different restaurants. While both have the end goal of serving food, a fast food restaurant approaches the design of its dining area differently than a French bistro might. Why? They have different goals. One values quick service and turnover while the other invites patrons to relax and explore the menu.
To understand what a user desires we must both understand the values of the business as well as the values and perception of the user. Only then can we hope to craft a desirable solution.
Each of these tenets builds on the last, promising that a solution serves a purpose, works well, and communicates its value to the user. The only thing is that organizations and users change. So, to maintain adoption a solution must also be…
Our world is an ever-changing place. Great tools are dynamic: meeting the needs of today while anticipating the potential needs of tomorrow. Because of this, no product’s lifecycle ends at deployment.
Creating adaptable solutions mean that we can minimize the need for dramatic changes in the future. We can gather feedback from users and refine our understanding of the needs of the business to continue to build and refine the solution so that it continues to empower users and solve business problems in the future.
Instead of spending countless dollars and hours trying to promote a solution that may ultimately miss the mark, start by focusing on these core concepts: creating a useful, usable, desirable, and adaptable solution through clear objective definition and user research. The road to a successfully adopted solution starts at inception – with research and design, not at go-live.