Peter Morville has an interesting article about the role of usability in business. Peter clarifies the stance provided by Don Norman that usability professionals do not understand business.
The article puts forth the idea that usability may not always be good business. Well atleast, it might be superfluous to a businesses success. And I think that Peter is correct. There are many examples where investing in usability would not influence the sale of a product. However, this effect is not caused by the lack of a need for usability or that usability is a poor business decision. It is caused by the market forces in the lifecycle of a product.
Don Norman addresses the diffusion of technology, i.e., the product life cycle, and the role of usability. He argues that as long as a product’s performance, reliability and cost fall below the the customer needs products there will continue to be technology-driven development. The role of usability and the user experience is diminished until the technology becomes a commodity.
Some technologies and services never become commodities. Examples include HMOs, cable TV service, and others. These products and services are typically offered in a monopolistic (or ogliopolistic) business environment. Where a few companies control the service and there is no need for innovation or development.
Building successful products and services depends on the technology, the business and the design. But when competition is controlled innovation is limited and usability is often forgotten.