Usability

The idea that solutions should be easy to use is hardly new, but frankly, it still doesn’t always result in usable products and services. This is especially true with technological solutions, al­though even common objects around the house could be improved. For example, OXO’s lines of Good Grips™ products are exceedingly well designed—make that redesigned—products that seem obvious once you pick them up and use them. Though they were designed for seniors with difficulty gripping traditional utensils, they’ve found a much wider audience because their grips are easier to hold and use. Many of the items introduce small improve­ments that make the products more useful (such as measuring cups that are easier to read accurately). However, improvement potential lurks within everything.

A recent Accenture study reported that 95 per­cent of product returns had nothing to do with the product’s functionality. (In these cases, the products were all functioning as designed.) While 27 percent of returns reflected buyer’s remorse, the rest were due to either products that didn’t fit perceived needs or products that users couldn’t use effectively.[35] The 11-20 percent of products that were returned in the consumer electronics industry alone repre­sented $i3.8B worth of merchandise that could not be resold as new. This dollar amount not only represents an exorbitant financial cost to companies but also a staggering material and energy cost to society and the environment. So obviously, reducing usability issues could have a drastic impact on product and service effec­tiveness.

Much is known about how to make solutions more usable for people so I won’t go into detail about that in this book. (Appendix B at the end, however, lists several great books on the subject.) However, here is a quick overview of some of the most popular and important us­ability principles.

Principles of Usability:

• Design for People. Research and under­stand who it is that you’re developing so­lutions for, whether products, services, or events, and understand their needs, desires, and contexts.

• Feedback. Make sure that users can see the system’s status at all times, as well as where they are in the system or process, what they’re doing, and what is available to them.

• Familiarity. The solution should reflect us­ers’ language, customs, and understanding, rather than technical conventions. [36]

• Consistency. Wherever possible and ap­propriate, solutions should be designed with consistent language, frameworks, con­texts, and communications.

• Efficiency. Superior systems should allow both novices and experts to work at their different paces, providing tools for each to work at their level of proficiency.

• Direct Manipulation. System elements should be directly active, rather than through proxies, allowing users to better use and understand the system and how to use it. [37]