What is usability?
I was just about to sum up my next post about heuristic evaluation when I realized that I hadn’t talked about usability itself yet. Sure, everyone has heard the term and most probably you use it too pretty often, but do you know exactly what it means? Even if the answer is yes, a little review has never hurt anyone, has it?
Unlike other UX related expressions, there is no contradiction here, only an internationally accepted definition. And it cannot be more international or more accepted, since it was published by ISO – International Organization for Standardization:
The extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use.
It’s not so easy to grasp the essence in this, so let’s see into the components of usability. The 5 elements were formulated by Jakob Nielsen and Ben Shneiderman and in my opinion they give the best explanation you ever need about this topic. I have added some examples how not to do it from my real life experience…just in case.
How easy for users to do basic tasks at the first time they come across the interface? Can they quickly pick up the way to use the new features?
Sounds like a minimum requirement, but I never forget when I had to download a report from the site of the European Commission. I’ve always been computer literate, but I was simply unable to figure out where and how a download should be made. Ok, then… cry for help. So, I asked my then-boss – a computer scientist – to solve the issue. We were there, two not particularly dumb people and the website remained a puzzle to us. Causing significant frustration and waste of time, because at the end our ego didn’t let us give up. After hours of struggle, I sent a direct email requesting the report. The task was done, but the website earned a rightful place on the wall of shame.
How fast (and accurate) can users accomplish tasks once they learned the design? Can they quickly apply the freshly acquire knowledge?
Our designer recently registered on a website built for creative professionals. The site tried to create a new and unique platform, but it’s safe to say that it’s backfired. Even after she learned the way to navigate, it took her ages to upload her portfolio. Knowing that the average human attention is down to 8.25 seconds, efficiency is a key factor, since users’ motto is ‘Get this done quickly’.
When users return to the interface after a certain period of not using it, can they remember enough to use it effectively again? Or do they have to start learning everything all over again?
Now, that’s the story of me and Google AdWords. I had used it back in the old days and recently I came back to it. I wanted to run an ad for TACO, but when I logged in I didn’t even remember where to start. Although I had watched video and read blogs and all available manuals at the first time around, I couldn’t recall any of that. There was only one way to go…tutorial videos one more time. The ads were done and published, but still…I don’t plan to come back any time soon.
How many errors do users make? How serious are these errors? How easily can users recover from these errors?
If you don’t make mistakes, you don’t make anything. You all know the phrase, right? Mistakes are inevitable, no matter how much you focus or how experienced you are. The number of errors is higher in a design which doesn’t convey the cues, instructions and hints in a clear way.
I have to refer back to the website for creative professions. Here our designer faced with inconsequent use of icons or even icons used opposite of their universal customs, hence numerous errors were made. Not the end of the world, but there was not a single way to correct those errors apart from contacting to the help desk. Could it be worse? Yeap, they answered with a great delay.
How much do users like using the interface? Do they find it pleasing?
Although, you might think that satisfaction is subjective and all depends on the person using the design, there are general principles which apply to everyone. This is where behavioral science can help you by explaining how people recognize objects, how they see patters and so on so forth.
The first website comes to mind about satisfaction or I rather say dissatisfaction is a food delivery site I used not so long ago. I wanted to order Indian food, which by the way I am a big fan of (Mango lassi…should I say more?), and I tried a new place with online ordering. But the website was painful to look at. As if it was a spam site, lack of contrast between background and text, making really difficult to read, flashing images and overall unpleasant appearance. Since I set my heart on Indian that day, I ordered and it was divine. But I have never ordered from them again, care to guess why?
Not all the websites are breaking these rules, of course. Usability has become common and companies, designers and other stakeholders invest in it to increase their conversion rate and therefore their profit. If you are curious how we do it, check out our portfolio.
Share your real life experience below!