Week 1 – Thoughts on usability

“User needs first: Technology second”  – Don Norman

Whenever we think of designing a physical product, a computer interface, new software or anything a human can interact with, we should always  in mind who the final targets are.  Users represent the key element that defines whether any kind of product is easy to use. Here is where usability appears.

Usability is a very controversial subject debated by many researchers in their studies . The most common and simple definition I found about usability is that it represents “the ease of use” something. A formal definition according to ISO-9241 is that usability is about “effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction with which specified users achieve specified goals in particular environments”[0]. And this is how they define each characteristic:

  • effectiveness: the accuracy and completeness with which specified users can achieve specified goals in particular environments
  • efficiency: the resources expended in relation to the accuracy and completeness of goals achieved
  • satisfaction: the comfort and acceptability of the work system to its users and other people affected by its use

We can expand this definition by using the following properties: “intuitive design, ease of learning, efficiency of use, memorability, error frequency and severity, subjective satisfaction”[1].  A combination of these characteristics are extremely important in order to better describe usability.

In my opinion, usability is a complex concept and it is difficult to limit its definition. But if if we had to make a synthesis of how usability is defined by experts in the area, we could also describe it as the quality and efficiency of a product regarding the satisfaction of users’ goals.

Usability  user vs. user experience(UX)

It is sure that usability is fundamental when it comes to exploring technology by respecting users values and objectives. But when it comes to providing users a valuable experience, it is very easy to fall into the trap: does an easy-to-use system necessarily offer good experience?  And is a beautiful design necessarily easy or intuitive  to use? For both questions the answer is NO. Usability is different from how the user feels during his/her interaction with a system.

gotItGuyLesson to learn: 

  1. Usability ≠ UX
  2. Usability is about getting something done intuitively and easily
  3. UX is about users’ emotional connection to the task
  4. Usability + UX are essentials for a good product
Related links:
[0] - http://www.w3.org/2002/Talks/0104-usabilityprocess/slide3-0.html
[1] - http://www.usability.gov/what-and-why/usability-evaluation.html

2 thoughts on “Week 1 – Thoughts on usability

  1. Excellent start! You have described usability very well. You are absolutely correct that usability is about effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction. And that users achieve specified goals in particular environments.

    Another definition from Dumas and Redish (‘A Practical Guide to Usability Testing,’ revised ed., 1999) describes usability as resting on four points:

    1. Usability means focusing on the users
    2. People use products to be productive
    3. Users are busy people trying to accomplish tasks
    4. Users decide when a product is easy to use

    To ensure good usability, we need to engineer it into a product through an iterative design/development process, involve users, and allowing usability and users’ needs to drive design decisions.

    We can never settle on a design and say “this is good enough, it has achieved ‘usability'” because usability is a changing, evolving expectation. What was considered to have good usability ten years ago may no longer meet the mark. And what we find has good usability today may not be considered so by our users in another few years.

    That is why we need to keep performing usability testing at every release, and within the development cycle. We need that feedback from users who are trying to achieve goals in real scenarios needs. And that is what we will do during this cycle of Outreachy.

    Great start!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Also wanted to comment on UX and usability. You are right that these are not the same. I sometimes say that UX is more about the emotional experience of using a product, and usability is how easy it is to use. It is possible to have a program with good usability (easy to use) but poor user experience (unpleasant or unhappy). And you can have a program with poor usability (hard to use) but good user experience (pleasant or happy).

    For example, a program with poor usability but good UX might be a game. For me, the Hedgewars game (http://www.hedgewars.org/) is really fun to play, and the graphics and sounds and wacky weapons makes the game a joy to play. But it’s really hard for me to use. It took me several attempts to learn how to move around and fire weapons, and I never remembered how to do things in the game the next time I went back to it. This had poor usability, but I liked it and had a lot of fun, so I had a happy UX.

    A program with good usability but poor UX could be any program that uses dark, moody colors or antiquated, awkward fonts. But the program is really easy to use, and has good prompts for what to do, so you never get “lost” in the program. I’ve used some music players that are like this; they used dark colors and a pixel-like font meant to emulate the displays on older LED-pixel stereos. The buttons are easy to use and clearly marked, and I can easily navigate the songs and playlists, but the colors and font choice are sad.

    Liked by 1 person

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