What exactly is “Usability” with respect to Software and Application Development?
Usability means making products, systems, websites and web applications easier to use, matching them more closely to user needs and requirements. A website very often serves as the first impression to your customers – and you need to ensure it is a good one to keep them coming back. “Good usability guidelines and user experience should capture the best possible human-computer interaction.”
A highly usable system doesn’t just offer benefits to the users, but to your business as well.
The primary benefits to users are that they can achieve their tasks easily and efficiently. This sounds simple, but the feeling of achievement that people get when they use a computer system without frustration should not be underestimated. You don’t want your users getting frustrated because they can’t navigate your site. Consider your website as the first impression your customers get, and you want that introduction to leave a pleasant memory, not a bitter one.
Components of Usability:
Effective – Effectiveness is the completeness and accuracy with which users achieve specified goals.
Efficient – Efficiency can be described as the speed in which users can complete the tasks for which they use the product.
Error – The ultimate goal is a system which has no errors.
Easy to Learn – How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
Satisfaction – How pleasant is it to use the design?
How to Improve Usability?
There are many methods for “Usability Guidelines”, but the most basic and useful is user testing.
User testing is different from focus groups, which are a poor way of evaluating design usability. Focus groups have a place in market research, but to evaluate interaction designs you must closely observe individual users as they perform tasks with the “User Interface“. Listening to what people say is misleading: you have to watch what they actually do.
Usability’s Role in the Design Process:
Usability Guidelines plays a role in each stage of the design process.
Before starting the new design, test the old design to identify the good parts that you should keep or emphasise and the bad parts that give users trouble.
Conduct a field study to see how users behave in their natural habitat.
Make paper prototypes of one or more new design ideas and test them. The less time you invest in these design ideas the better because you’ll need to change them all based on the test results.
Refine the design ideas that test best through multiple iterations, gradually moving from low-fidelity prototyping to high-fidelity representations that run on the computer. Test each iteration.
Once you decide on and implement the final design, test it again. Subtle usability problems always creep in during implementation.
Usability Guidelines and Standards:
It can be useful to provide ideas about usability issues, but they must be assessed to determine whether they are relevant to the users and context.
As an example, a common website guideline is that all content should be available within three clicks. The intent of this guideline is good – it highlights that people should not have to click endlessly for information. However, there are situations where it is not applicable. Large sites or sites with information designed to present increasingly detailed pages may not meet the guideline, but may be very usable for the intended audience.
Usability Guidelines and Standards are best used to identify the most obvious usability problems and fix them before a usability test is conducted.