This is an article from 2001 I kept about the cost of bad design and inattention to the details of user experience (even though no one was calling it then). Why do I still have it? First, it makes some very powerful points that still hold true seven years later. Second, the last three paragraphs are funny as hell 🙂

The Humane Touch: Bad Design Can Be Costly
(not to mention inefficient, demoralizing, and embarrassing)
Jef Raskin, Forbes ASAP, 05.28.01

Bad user interfaces may be more expensive than you think, including software your company buys as well as software your company writes.

For example, everybody knows that Microsoft Word, Excel, and other popular programs can be maddeningly frustrating, but few take the time to figure out what their shortcomings mean in terms of lost work, lower worker morale, and wasted dollars.

Microsoft Word requires at least 30% more keystrokes and 100% more mouse moves to accomplish certain editing tasks than would an optimal word processor. Decreasing physical work not only saves time but also decreases incidents of repetitive stress injury. Good design can eliminate many of the steps that are most damaging to nerves and tendons.

The saying among IT professionals used to be, “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.” Now it’s, “Nobody ever got fired for buying Microsoft.” Sometimes we forget that whenever you do exactly what everybody else does, you lose an opportunity for a competitive advantage.

IT purchasers tend to go with the big name. Another example is the AutoCAD computer-aided design and drafting package. Vellum (a competitive CAD package) is much easier to learn and more efficient. It’s got a better interface rather than more features—and yes, its files are compatible. For many companies, using it would be like getting free engineers.

The status quo is hard to change because today’s top executives come from backgrounds unlikely to have given them an understanding of the economic advantages of good interface design. For example, a couple of years ago, I was the vice president in charge of human interaction at Telocity, a DSL provider. At my first executive staff meeting with the newly named CEO, she said, “So, you’re going to choose the colors for our Web site.” Having thus pigeonholed me, she refused all requests for a one-on-one meeting. She knew that efficient CEOs don’t need to be bothered with trivial details like color choices.

However, it was not our Web site colors but our internal order-taking software that was my first concern. It was slow, didn’t make available information that account representatives needed, and required considerable training. Interface analysis showed that redesign could speed up each call by at least 15%, and the reduction of errors would save time and retain customers who dropped out of the order-taking process in frustration. The savings to the company in labor costs alone—even without an increase in subscribers—would have been significant.

As far as I know, the CEO never learned how better user interfaces could add to the bottom line. On the day I resigned, I made a last attempt to be helpful, suggesting that the CEO use her full name, “patti. hart,” in her email address, because the form she was using had an unfortunate pronunciation. The reply said that my note would not be passed on because Ms. Hart was accepting “revenue generating messages only.”

Until she left to become CEO of ExciteAtHome last month, she still used her old “phart” email.

After all, it’s just an interface issue.