I have long time since my last post. More sharpened time management techniques are required here!
Since long time, since early days of college, I am thinking about good design. I am fond of good design of anything and not only software in particular. I deeply believe that there is no difference between good design of a vending machine, piece of furniture, car, or well-architected software. All of them provide you (end-user) with satisfaction and happiness of using this object more and more.
Nevertheless, I would like to discuss a part of good design which a portion of design that is visible to end-users called usability.
I believe the field of usability engineering is overlooked by many of IT consultants and specialists. They would wrongly think that this practice is exclusive for products development companies who develop large software products or electronic gadgets. However, if we dig into the concepts behind usability engineering, we will discover that its understanding will contribute heavily in many aspects of IT consultants’ activities.
Wikipedia definition of usability is “Usability is the ease of use and learnability of a human-made object. The object of use can be a software application, website, book, tool, machine, process, or anything a human interacts with.”
IT consultant can make very good use of usability concepts while he is working on specific deliverables such as an analysis document or design document. How he will present and design the document layout and outline, in an attractive manner for readers. The same applies for sales person who will be much capable of building sleek presentations with clear messages.
Many IT consultants go into IT industry field without minimum knowledge about usability. They experiment their ad-hoc ideas upon their victims (customers in this case) wondering why their customers are not attracted or not understanding their creative work!!
Usability engineering is relevant to other social, psychological, and cognitive sciences. This would propose an acceptable explanation of why IT consultants and specialists do not stumble upon this field during their academic studies (however, this is not an excuse!).
I can simplify the subject of usability into a theme of phrases (as in this post title) starts with “Do not bother me with much thinking about [finding messages within your presentation – tracking line of thought within your document – using your program – understanding what is meant by this error message – learning how to operate this device – searching for help – function of this button – this goes on and on].
We should differentiate between designing good software which is modular and well-layered separating presentation layer from application logic. This does not guarantee you will end up with a good usability level of the application but will ensure future maintenance of it.
However, good architecture and good design promotes and supports high usability. Many invisible components impact visible ones and accordingly the final usability seen by end-user. For example, good data modeling would guarantee fast database response to end-user queries. But the point is that good design is not alone responsible for good usability but it is essential.
In literature, there are many factors determining usability but the major factors can be summarized as follows:
– Efficiency – the amount of effort energy time required to be consumed by end-user to achieve required results,
– Effectiveness – the capability of software (or any other object) to meet end-user goals with desired accuracy and completeness within a given context,
– Satisfaction – users’ subjective opinion and approval about experience of using a software program or a website,
– Learnability – the ease of use which will enable users achieve their goals. Moreover, they can do other functions for the first time without much thinking or previous training, in other words, intuitive.
Although we know usability factors, those above factors are very difficult to measure and this provides the beauty and mysterious of innovation and creativity. If those factors can be mathematically modeled and measured, the fun about design would disappear!! This is my opinion at least!
In future posts, we can go into more details and examples about good usability.