In 1998, Frito-Lay hit upon a can’t-miss product idea — healthy junk food. Made with the fat substitute Olestra, the company’s line of WOW chips were much lower in fat and calories than regular chips, plus they tasted pretty darn good. Although sales initially soared, they quickly plummeted once consumers discovered that Olestra caused abdominal cramping and other gastrointestinal symptoms.

The lesson? No matter how good your idea, nothing trumps user experience.

Those of us in the technology world understand more than most how quickly a poor user experience can derail a project. There are countless examples of new applications, interfaces and systems that promised to improve some aspect of the business, but ultimately failed because users simply hated them.

In fact, the U.S. workforce suffers from high levels of tech frustration. A study conducted by 24 Hour Fitness concluded that 65 percent of Americans regularly become angry because of technology. Half of the 2,000 individuals surveyed admitted to yelling at a piece of technology. Sixteen percent said they’ve literally been reduced to tears by tech problems.

Technology investments only pay off if the final product is readily accepted and fully utilized. Usability considerations are particularly important in custom application development projects.

Usability is typically one of the primary reasons for engaging in custom app development in the first place. In most cases, custom development is required because you can’t find commercial, off-the-shelf software products with the features or functionality your workforce requires.

For many years, applications and systems were designed with a focus on technological capabilities and business goals. Usability was an afterthought. The idea was that users could always be trained on the back end in how to actually work with the app.

There’s a glaring flaw in this philosophy. It relies upon software engineers to guess at what users would find intuitive or easy to use. Unsurprisingly, their opinions tend to be very different from those of the folks working in sales, shipping or human resources. Too often, this resulted in applications that were too complicated and confusing for most users to navigate. People either ignored important features or developed workarounds that defeated the original purpose of the development project.

Many developers respond to this by engaging graphic designers to improve the look and feel of the front-end user interface. While that’s an important element, it doesn’t fully address the user experience. It still creates a system that relies on users to learn and adapt to the final product.

Today, good developers understand that the key to user-centered design is identifying users’ requirements, behaviors and workstyles up front, through observation, interviews and other cooperative activities. User interfaces are often created to mimic well-understood designs such as web browsers, and the same look and feel are carried throughout all the apps features.

An incremental testing process allows the development team to measure performance and make adjustments as needed along the way. Gathering feedback during this process helps ensure that the final design will meet usability and functionality requirements.

Custom software development is a significant project, dictated by critical requirements. If you could get a packaged application to do what you need, you probably wouldn’t spend the time, money or effort on custom development. As such, it is important to get it right. SSD has a long history of working with customers to identify their requirements for applications that streamline business processes. We understand the value in creating a custom app that your staff really wants to use.