When Signage Goes Wrong

CC Image courtesy of Rick Dolishny on Flickr

We recently met with a potential client who asked for some usability testing. They were using a somewhat proprietary Knowledge Management tool that they purchased from a well-established software vendor – not one of the big names, but with many big clients. Our potential client had contracted the vendor to create a variety of custom modules to satisfy their more specific needs. They felt that some baseline usability testing would help them improve the tool.

But here’s the rub: we told them that usability testing probably wasn’t going to serve their needs and that although we could provide the service, ultimately it probably wouldn’t be a good investment. When would usability testing ever be a bad investment? Well, turns out that our potential client wasn’t part of the vendor’s core audience and that the software’s feature set was never going to align well with user’s needs. They hoped to use our usability recommendations to get the vendor to improve or change the product. Ultimately there would be very little incentive for the vendor to do this, unless they were paid for those changes…

At the end of the day, there was no guarantee that our recommendations would be beneficial for our potential client or valuable for their vendor. Additionally, our recommendations may be counter to the product roadmap for the vendor – without a dialogue with them, it was impossible to say.

We told our clients to revisit their end user’s needs and re-evaluate whether they were using the right tool in the first place. They needed to determine if the tool was the right answer moving forward. Once they understood what their users’ needs are, they could then undertake a needs assessment against the different tools available. They could do a buy vs. build analysis as well to see where to go.

Sometimes, saying “no thanks, we don’t want your money” is the right answer!