Dollars And Sense: The Business Case For Investing In UI Design

Apple has shown that consumers are willing to pay a premium for products that are easy to use. So why do companies resist putting money into UI upfront?

In their rush to build more features into their electronic devices, companies often lose sight of a key ingredient: basic usability. User-interface design (UI), the art of simplifying complexity into meaningful user experiences, is an increasingly important competitive advantage for technology companies launching new products, as people from consumers to business users seek solutions that offer as much intuitiveness as they do function.

Today, usability is a must-have for optimal return on investment with new technologies. Companies focusing on user-experience (UX) and user-interface design in product and application development create better solutions, improving revenue, loyalty, and market share. Numerous industry studies have stated that every dollar spent on UX brings in between $2 and $100 dollars in return. Already, household names such as Samsung, Charles Schwab, Motorola, Logitech, and Dell are leveraging UX and interface design in the development of their products and applications—with strong results.

Usability matters

While the research has been out for some time, many companies still dramatically underestimate the importance of ease of use and focus too heavily on features and functions. Some have learned the lesson the hard way. Think back to 2006, when Microsoft introduced Zune, a portable MP3 player designed to compete with the iPod. While feature-rich, Zune failed due in part to a more complex interface, which couldn’t compete with the simplicity of Apple’s design.

The doomed first-generation Zune

With options that are user-friendly on the market, frustrated consumers are not going to overlook technological kinks. When a product gets singled out in the media for poor performance, it goes viral and quickly deters potential customers from not only the new product but potentially the company’s non-related products. Thus, companies face losing brand credibility, revenue opportunities, and entire markets. With the millions of dollars it takes in R&D—from the hard costs of manufacturing to the less definable costs of resources and people—the losses mount quickly with an unsuccessful product. Complications caused by design oversights have cost companies billions of dollars.

Driving market share and revenue

In a marketplace of all too similar offerings, whether it is a website or electronic device, it is easy to see how design focused on user experience is a key competitive differentiator. The market is cluttered with "me too" products. In the last year alone, at least half a dozen tablet computers hit the market, along with three times as many new smartphones and countless MP3 players. The devices that offer simplicity over complexity win market share.

As we have seen with Apple’s success, creating products that offer as much simplicity as functionality drives market share and premium pricing. Recent studies validate this strategy. Forrester Research finds that "implementing a focus on customers’ experience increases their willingness to pay by 14.4 percent, reduces their reluctance to switch brands by 15.8 percent, and boosts their likelihood to recommend your product by 16.6 percent."

The Logitech Harmony One: Not a beauty, but solving problems.

Take, for example, Logitech, which, like Apple, delivered a simply superior product, the Harmony One universal remote control, that consumers were willing to pay for. Not long ago, the company reexamined how people truly use remotes and decided to move away from device-centric controls to activity-based controls. Based on research of what consumers truly needed, a simple-to-use interface solution was developed that makes controlling home entertainment easier with a full-color touchscreen, an intuitive button layout, and an exceptionally ergonomic design. While the product is more expensive than other devices, Logitech has won the lion’s share of the market because its product offers unparalleled usability.

Invest in UX from the get-go

Racing to market with greater levels of functionality isn’t going to ensure dominance; solutions must offer users an intuitive and tailored user interface. Companies are recognizing that it is far less expensive to prevent a problem or usability issue from occurring in the first place than to fix it later in a redesign process. In a marketplace with very little differentiation among products and increasing complexity, companies that embrace usability early on will drive revenue, productivity, and customer loyalty.

[Top image: Tom Nance/Shutterstock]

Add New Comment


  • Jonathan_Browne

    The Forrester data is misquoted.

    The data appears to come from a 2010 blog post about the Customer Experience index. However, the blog post does not refer to "implementing a focus on customers’ experience". It refers to companies that scored highly in a consumer survey:

    [Forrester's analyst measured] the difference in loyalty between companies in the top
    quartile of customer experience (when measured against industry
    averages) and the companies in the lowest quartile:

    14.4% more customers willing to buy another product
    15.8% more customers reluctant to switch
    16.6% more customers likely to recommend

  • CyrylKwasniewski

    What research? What study? Where are the sources? Could please cite whatever you based your numbers on? 

  • Cmauro


    The way in which the Pressman data is used in your post is actually misleading as is the Gilb data. At the time of their research they were focusing on software programming errors and not UX related issues. While it may be reasonable to correlate that data with UX design (I have done this myself but with qualification)  not being clear with your citations does not help your POV. UX design and software programming errors are not really the same thing.

    The best source of research on this topic can be found in the book " by: Bias and Mayhew.

    Disclaimer: I wrote a chapter in that text but do not receive compensation for purchase of the book.

    For an overview of the relationship between UX research/Design and
    business/team performance see the recent seminar I did with Rob Tannen
    Ph.D now posted on YouTube at:

    The seminar was from a NYTECH event last month in NYC.

  • Arjun Dhillon

    "Numerous industry studies have stated that every dollar spent on UX brings in between $2 and $100 dollars in return." 

    You have citations or links to studies for this comment?

  • Cassandra Moore

    Thanks for a great article, Peter.  I too would love to have citations -- especially for the Forrester quote.

  • Mike

    Like Arjun and Matthew, I'm eager for any further citation on what seems to be great data.

  • Peter Eckert

    Hi Everyone,
    Here are some sources for my comments.“The rule of thumb in many usability-aware organizations is that
    the cost-benefit ratio for usability is $1:$10-$100. Once a system is in
    development, correcting a problem costs 10 times as much as fixing the same
    problem in design. If the system has been released, it costs 100 times as much
    relative to fixing in design.” (Gilb, 1988)



    A number of design sites use the "every dollar invested in UX
    brings between …… (see below)


    Guys at
    Infragistics have some interesting numbers and reasoning. They are saying well
    known facts about UX being a key technology enabler and market differentiator
    but also they are stating that UX adds to the value of a product in a bit more
    concrete way. They go further citing the studies across industries showing that
    every dollar invested
    in UX brings between 2 and 100 dollars in return.

    Cited from:

    Gilb, T. (1988). Principles of Software Engineering Management. Addison
    Wesley: Reading, Ma.
    Pressman, R.S. (1992). Software Engineering: A Practitioner’s Approach.
    McGraw-Hill: New York, NY.

    Also Gartner and Forrester a while ago did research and they stated that each dollar spend on Design in the beginning will "save" you between 100-1000 Dollars in the long run on a product life cycle. Lastly some other valuable sources are to fin here. 

  • Matthew Tarnowski

     I'm with you Arjun, I would love to see some of these studies. If I shared this with clients I can see them saying, "Well, I want the $100 return, not the $2 return." It would help to know who did the math, how they got the numbers, and what kinds and sizes of projects that they looked at to come to those conclusions.

  • Scott Kiekbusch

    Nice to see FastCo. publishing UX articles by someone who actually understands and can articulate the business value of UX. Well done.

  • uidesignguide

    There is still a great divide in new design thinking & old functional thinking. I'd rather have a tool I can use that gets the job done v.s. I'd rather have a great experience when using that tool. I liken it very much to trying to use duct tape to solve every problem. It works, and it's functional gets the job done. Why do I need to do anything else to duct tape?

    The mentality still (and probably will always exists) that you simply can apply stripes, polk-a-dots or pink to your tape and that causes people to perceive your product differently. As a UX designer of many years, only recently have we been able to have huge case studies available us to leverage in our discussion about the importance of up front and the ROI that is at stake. Products like: Mint, Apple, and more recently Drawsome, which all had heavy focus on not just function, but epic experiences are what draw the people, and bring in the big bucks.

    Only in the last ten years or so has the same mentality that was applied to product design (cars, house hold devices etc,) been applied to application design.

  • Chris Alvarez

    We must not forget that UX design can only be applied effectively to great products. The iPod/Zune example is only somewhat accurate; it was iTunes (the ecosystem, not the app) that really drew-in and kept users happy. It was the services provided, plus the device, plus the interface, plus the interaction (touch-wheel on the original device).

  • Peter Eckert

    You are right. As always it is the entire User Experience that makes the difference. In the case of the IPod it was build to consum music very simple and intuitive. Brian is right, most products that try to compete with apple products think it's features that drive users to their products, but it's not. Creating meaningful user experiences focuses on what is the most important thing to do and deliver that in a simple and intuitive way.

  • BrianKSullivan

    Chris, you are right about the ecosystem with the iPod and iTunes.  The whole package makes it a great experience, as you mentioned it draws people and keeps them there.  It makes the whole experience sticky.

    For me, Peter's point in the article with the iPod and Zune example was to illustrate the difference between feature-rich products versus experience-rich products.  Feature-rich products are more complex, harder to learn, and more.

    I especially like how Peter explains how the universal remote was more successful because the designers took any activity-based approach to help people solve whatever task they might be doing (recording a movie, checking the TV schedule).

    I think the iPod's concept model matches the user's mental model.  It is focused on the activities of the music consumers (pick, listen, volume).  The iPod is like a universal remote for you personal music library.  And, it offers an elegant, easy-to-use entrance into the larger eco-system that you mentioned.