Usability is not just common sense!
User Experience design, Usability, Interaction design are all the buzz words these days. Many organizations treat it as nothing more than “common sense”. On one hand it is good that many organizations are realizing the importance of developing user-centered products but this trivializing of usability creates a more dangerous situation than if product designers freely admitted that designing for usability was not their area of expertise. Will Rogers so aptly stated “It’s not the things that we don’t know that gets us into trouble’ it’s the things we do know that ain’t so”. In many organizations usability engineering has been approached as if it were nothing more than “Common Sense”.
Let’s talk Usability. Usability is a quality that many products possess, but many, many more lack and Usability is only an issue when it is lacking or absent. When the product or service is truly usable, the user can do what he or she wants to do the way he or she expects to be able to do it, without hindrance, hesitation, or questions.Imagine yourself buying a product online and your inner dialogue will be like — I can’t find what I’m looking for, Is there shipping cost, When is the delivery date, how do I compare this with that, and so on. Something is usable when there is absence of frustration in using it. To be usable, a product or service should be useful, efficient, effective, satisfying, learnable, and accessible. And the goals of Usability are typically defined in measurable terms of one or more of these attributes. In my next few blogs I will talk about my experiences of measuring these attributes quantitatively and qualitatively and their outcomes.
What makes some products less usable?
Some of the reasons for this are -
The users change,expand and adapt. Today, expectations from the users change dramatically. Users are apt to have little technical knowledge of computers and mechanical devices, little patience for tinkering with the product just purchased, and completely different expectations from those of the designers.
Design and Implementation do not match. The challenge of design has increased dramatically due to the need to reach a broader, less sophisticated user population and the rising expectation for ease of use. Also, given the tight deadlines, lazy initial sprints, and not involving usability in each phase, the teams tend to emphasize too much on completing the product itself rather than on the users.
Designing Usable products is difficult. As I pointed out before, the organizations tend to trivialize the usability or the User Experience as a whole. User Experience is a discipline and not a short fix to the product or some good to have factor.
Development focuses on the system. During design and development, the emphasis and focus may have been on the system and not on the person who is the ultimate end user. There are 3 things to any product, the human, the context and the activity. Most organizations just focus on the last part — the activity.
Team specialists don’t always work in integrated ways. To improve efficiency, many organizations have broken down the product development process into separate system components developed independently. But there is a lack of integration of these separate components and also poor communication which results in a product whose separate systems are not in sync.
Those are the different factors which may result in poorly usable products. To design a truly User-Centered Product, organizations may want to emphasize on these basic principles,(I will elaborate more on these in my future blogs)
- Early focus on users and their tasks
- Evaluation and measurement of product usage
- Iterated design