barriers to usability

Just read a great article, Ten ways to kill good design, which is well worth a look.

It is really important to explain the benefits of usability and steps involved very clearly. I think that for some organisations that take on board the concept of usability there is still a lack of understanding of what it is. I have often heard Usability referred to as making something ‘easy to use’, although this is true it doesn’t allow for a fuller understanding of what it is or the steps involved.

When I have come into a project that has already commenced (already a bit too late) I find myself having to redefine or educate people about what usability actually is as they speak about making it easy to use and what they think is easy to use. This can be a dangerous place to be as personal preferences and opinions have already been accepted as part of the design from people that are too close to the product and have a deep understanding of how it should work.

The customer, however, doesn’t usually have the same understanding when they first use a product.

Business reps that see usability as making something easy to use or being about what people do and don’t like can cause problems as their lack of understanding will influence the timescales given to and at what stage the ‘easy to use’ bit is scheduled in the project plan; usually far later than is beneficial.


2 Responses to “barriers to usability”

  1. cranley Says:

    Your post is right on the money. At my last job, Usability = Easy and Flashy… Usability was also dictated by the CEO, somebody who had excellent vision but didn’t understand what, exactly, Usability it or, worse, how its achieved.

    The product in question is over 8 years old, and the shoot-from-the-hip “usability” decisions started to add up such that, when they brought me in (as a software developer, not a UI/UX expert) I was actually floored at how horrible the thing was to use. There was no consistency, no UI guidelines, no flow (in fact, “by design”, every screen had so much stuff crammed into it that it was impossible to visually guide the user). The thing was a complete mess, but everybody else had been so indoctrinated, and understood the underlying functionality and business goals, that they couldn’t see the mess that was in front of them.

    Tried as I might I was unable to convince the key people that we needed to take a different approach. My question to you is, what advice do you have for people in organizations that want to make a UI/UX difference, but are facing the people that don’t (or can’t) see the problems that you see? How do you get the ball rolling? How do you “win them over”? Are some organizations too entrenched to make the shift?

    Thanks – great post!

  2. sonyal1 Says:

    It can be a tricky one to win people over and I can only advise some usability testing. This doesn’t have to be lab-based or indeed expensive. I can recommend Steve Krug’s book Don’t make me think – a common sense approach to usability. Although is a few years old it does have a useful section about informal usability testing.

    Even informal testing can provide invaluable insight into how; users use software, find ways round things that maybe confusing them or even how users can be unaware that they are not using it as intended.

    In my last project I was undertaking a heuristic-based review and on a particular function something didn’t seem quite right – I wasn’t sure how I could convince my audience that there was a problem so I asked a few colleagues in my office to have a go at completing a particular task. In this instance this was extremely useful, as 3 out 4 didn’t successfully complete it when they thought they had. The remaining person did successfully complete the task after trying 5 times. This confirmed my fears but also gave me a bit more credence to my argument when reporting back. When I did report back those that thought they understood usability and how it was achieved were very surprised but also started to listen. It was no longer my view vs. theirs it was facts that they had to deal with. This also helped keep the discussions much more objective.

    This was also leverage to get some formal usability testing done, which has also furthered their understanding.

    I hope this helps.

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