Missing the Forrest for Usability — Testing!

In their 2021 report titled “The Top 12 Reasons Startups Fail” CB Insights listed running out of cash, and no market need as the two top reasons why startups fail while flawed business models came in 4th place.

In Skynova’s 2022 report, running out of cash came as the second reason behind startups’ failure, poor timing was in the 4th place, while lack of a business model came in the 7th place.

These previously mentioned reasons highlighting the failure to create, sustain, and capture value businesses emphasize how critical User Research and User-Centered approaches can be when building new ventures or releasing new products or offerings, or even launching a new marketing campaign.

This article isn’t questioning the research practices of the failed startups the two previous reports had covered, it seeks to highlight the issues that might make a startup end up shuttering its businesses because of one of these reasons.


Great concepts never start great, they usually follow a high-level journey, something like:

Rough Idea ~ Sophisticated idea ~ Concept(s) ~ Prototype(s) ~ Beta ~ Product.

As you might have guessed the stages with (s) are highly iterative and takes more effort and collaboration.

The greatest mistake often committed is the heavy reliance on reported data resulting from generative and foundational research and confining evaluative research in very late stages such as the Beta or Prototype(s) stage.

Evaluative research should walk side by side with every maturity of our idea towards being a product.

The second killer mistake is to confine evaluative research to challenge our assumptions regarding the usability, and likability of our offerings while ignoring assumptions regarding the viability, feasibility, scalability, maintainability, and suitability of our products, services, or offerings.

Evaluative Research is way more than Usability Testing!

Evaluative research, a Journey Partner!

To put it plainly, evaluative research accompanies every stage of our idea development toward being a final product, it just takes different formats.

In the idea stage, evaluative research is mostly on the go as the goal is to form hypotheses and be dreamy and creative rather than selective or analytical, and it’s okay, ideas are very cheap, and they’re nearly free.

The moment we start to put effort even as tiny as visualizing our ideas and transforming them into concepts, we need evaluative research, we shouldn’t delay it till the last stages.

Desirability — whether our hypothesized product meets the target customers’ needs — gets all attention here shadowing other critical aspects as well, in this stage we need to know first:

  • Does our product offer value to the customer we’re targeting?
  • Will we be able to build that product or not?
  • Is it aligned with business goals and plans for the meantime or not?
  • Can it be marketed and has no legal troubles?
  • etc.

Before we get busy building it we need to know whether it can be built or not, we don’t want to put effort and invest resources to find out that there are some areas that we can’t cover so it all goes in vain.

Evaluative Research in this stage will teach us that we don’t need fancy experiments, that research is so resilient to the extent that makes such claims that research is a costly and unnecessary burden so so silly, well-organized and well-moderated workshops, meetings, or presentations, all we need is to get our ideas in front of other stakeholders and SMEs to not only get specific feedback but also a collective one to see whether all aspects of our concept are harmoniously synced.

Another shift that happens is that we foster collaboration this way, but waiting till the end and running a couple of usability tests is more likely to put us into a blame game when any tiny thing gets wrong, especially when your usability masterpiece product fails in the market and doesn’t meet business KPIs.

But beware, I said workshops, not meetings with lengthy presentations, you need to get stakeholders to participate and feel ownership not act like X-Factors judges.

Deceptive Usability Testing!

Usually run during the prototype(s) and beta phases, usability testing tries to determine whether our product is easy to use and feels intuitive or not, and the reason I call it “deceptive” is that more often than not by pursuing usability testing we tend to give ourselves false-positives on very critical questions such as:

  • Is the value we provide satisfying enough for customers to give a damn?
  • Are we offering something valuable that customers see it worth purchasing?
  • Keeping competition in mind, is our offering good enough to stand out from the crowd?
  • Did we place the best price tag?
  • Had we designed our offering well enough so that the behavior it elicits from users is what we’re expecting?
  • etc.

We list all our questions and assumptions, including usability, and start to work on prioritizing them to know how experiments should be designed to give us some solid data before investing more to find out later that there are obstacles that undermine the success of other factors.

Now let me show you how usability and easiness to use aren’t the sole determinants of your product success.

Vine & Everpix.

Vine is a great example of a highly loved product that’s very usable and enjoyable to use, yet it failed to look beyond that.

At its peak, Vine had over 200 million active users back in 2015 before shutting down 2 years later in 2017 due to issues concerning monetization, getting outcompeted, and not adapting to users’ behavior and meeting their evolving needs.

Everpix is another example of a popular app known for its simplicity and ease of use that although having a large and loyal audience, it simply didn’t sell!

Google Reader & The Flip Camera.

Google Reader had Google’s DNA and it was very intuitive and easy to use compared to other competitors at that time such as Feedly or Newsblur yet, they outperformed Google Reader in terms of comprehensive features and integration that maximized the value they provided.

The Flip camera by Pure Digital was a great example of a user-friendly and simple product that succeeded in gaining traction and building a good audience base yet, it lost to competitors as their offerings, especially from the smartphone industry, offered more value and sophisticated features.

To put it simply,

without research, proper, well-designed, holistic research, you’re just gambling.

Missing the Forrest for Usability — Testing! was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.