Information Science and Technology

Ultimate Profits: Why Can't Science and Business Just Learn to Get Along?

"If technology doesn't work for people, then it doesn't work" - Kim Vicente Ph.D., P.Eng. - Founding Director of the Cognitive Engineering Laboratory at the University of Toronto


I used to attend meetings for usability professionals at the University of Toronto. For the most part, usability professionals work on developing better ways of having humans interact with technology. In theory, if web developers followed the rules already proven in science, then the amount of frustration with poorly designed websites would be minimized, and people would probably buy more online.

I've always seen the benefit of taking an integrative approach to business, one that incorporates scientific thinking and research with social science and psychology. So why is it that, in most cases, there seems to be an "us vs. them" attitude between the worlds of science and business? Could a more joint approach not benefit both disciplines?

Computer scientists and usability professionals often feel websites are doomed to failure once marketers get involved. As a marketing communications professional and former account manager who has worked on large scale web projects in the advertising industry, I have to say that there is quite an amount of truth in that. All too often, companies focus on the "glitz" factor behind their brands. Homepages are built to dazzle prospects and customers, and video clips are added to describe the latest and greatest products or services. That's all nice and fine - but if a website doesn't give you the information you need at the time in the decision making process when you need it the most - is it really of any value to anyone?

Scientists from numerous disciplines have already told us how to make technology more effective and easy to use. Social scientists have told us the secrets behind building effective relationships - secrets that, in spite of advances in digital technology - are still the cornerstone of any successful business.

Scientists turned authors such as Bill Buxton, Kim Vicente, Jakob Nielsen, Donald Norman and Nicholas Negroponte have already told us how to make technology, business systems and consumer products easier to use. Computer Science professors such as Ron Baecker, Bell Chair in Human-Computer Interaction at the University of Toronto have realized that success in the software industry involves not only a keen understanding of technology, but depends on strong business skills as well. In light of this fact, Dr. Baecker introduced the popular course "The Business of Software" to the computer science program at the University of Toronto.

It's time for business to stand up and listen. As technological advances and information systems become more complex, let's not lose sight of the customer. What we really want is to be able to use technology and/or products in a way that doesn't frustrate the heck out of us. Now that's not just good science, that's good business.

Have you been frustrated  by websites that don't give you the information you need? Do you feel that Flash is a good thing, but can sometimes be overrused on websites? What else do you think business can learn from the science world?