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Innovation and Usability: Striking a Balance

In a sense, success in online or software product management comes down to one word: innovation.
Discovering and implementing ideas is what drives success. The very word “innovation” is on the rise; as a recent comparison by Scott Burkun shows, the word “has undergone a steady and sharp increase in its appearance in print formats over the last fifty years”.

But does innovation come at a cost? Innovations can only be useful if they reach customers. And the key to reaching, and onboarding, these customers, is not only innovation – it’s usability.

New and returning users of your product don’t want to deal with constant updates or fixes – they want a product that works. If they already know how to use the service, they don’t want to have to learn something new.

So how to balance innovation with usability?

The following three steps are crucial, and worth keeping in mind:

1) Broadcast the benefits

If your innovation is important and worthwhile enough that it will initially hinder your product’s usability (at least for users already familiar with the old version of the product), you need to assuage their fears and complaints. Do this by singing the praises of whatever innovation you’ve added!

Focus on the tangible benefits that the update to your service provides. Emphasize the time it will save, or the new opportunities it will enable. More than ever, you’ll need to broadcast the function of your service on your front page or website.

Take a step back from the nitty-gritty details. Describe the benefits of your product in terms as broad as possible – and include any recent innovations in your description.

2) Believe in your users

Web users today are more savvy, demanding, and intuitive than ever. So enable them to get involved with your product! The more proactive and engaging your innovation or update is, the better! Users learn by doing. A hands-on approach to usability will allow customers to quickly acclimatize themselves to your service. Guided navigation, for example, helps your users adapt to software updates while they work.

As you innovate, don’t be afraid to streamline! Search for shortcuts that will make navigating your service simpler for your users. Keep their savviness and impatience in mind, too.
According to one recent study, the 18-to-34-year-old demographic is more quickly frustrated than any other age group at having to search for documents or files. So, as you innovate, anticipate their needs and abilities, striving to make it as simple as possible for them to get what they’re looking for from your service.

3) Take a step back – and think ahead!

Innovation and usability aren’t necessarily at odds. So don’t be limited by your assumptions about your product and its function.

As you strive to innovate with usability in mind, take a step back in order ask yourself some important questions.

Does this innovation change the way you think about and market your product? If so, how? What are the possible positive influences on usability of your recent update or innovation, and what are its potentially negative influences?

As you work to maximize the former category and minimize the latter, more possibilities may open themselves up to you. Consider other ways to branch out or improve your product and how these in turn might affect usability.

In conclusion, keeping usability at the forefront of your business model is a necessity in today’s customer-driven marketplace. But innovation and usability don’t have to be enemies. As you innovate, trust your customers to grow with you. Broadcast the benefits of any changes you make. And look for methods to improve your product’s simplicity and level of engagement. Keep your philosophy user-centered throughout the innovation process, and you’ll keep your customers, too.

Megan Wilson is the Lead Author & Editor of UX Motel- the User Experience Blog. She is also the Quality Assurance and UX Specialist at WalkMe. Follow her on Twitter @UXMotel

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