Usability, part I

26 September 2013
By Dmitry Kozitsky, Senior Designer

To begin with, let’s define the term “usability”.

Usability is the ease of use and training required to work with a product. The term “usability” can be applied to both software products (websites, mobile applications), and other products that people use.

People use a lot of different objects during their work and they can all be convenient or not, whether it’s a lighter, a pen, or a mobile phone. Manufacturers try to conduct research into improving the usability of their products, but quite often we face their failures and obviously some bad examples.

An example of a failure, for instance, is an ATMs that give out the card after they issue the money. The main reason why people use ATMs is to get cash, so at the stage of getting the money the user’s head generates an idea that the purpose is achieved. And once the purpose is achieved, the user may forget that his card still remains in the ATM and that increases the chances that he’ll forget the card.

And of course there are some examples of manufacturers’ successful usability improvements. Thus, Control Panel in Android allows the user to access frequently-used phone settings easily. This successful example was used in the new iOS7.

Quick setup panel in Android

Quick setup panel in Android


Another good example is the Silent Mode Switch on iPhones and iPads. This is exactly the type of a feature that is used quite often, so hiding it in the settings menu would be very inconvenient for users. Quick access to silent mode was therefore placed on the push-button phones – either on “#” or “*” button.

Silent Mode Switch on iPhone 4S

Silent Mode Switch on iPhone 4S

In order to improve the usability of its products, the usability competence center was established in DataArt.

Usability testing

The main direction that the competence center is working in is creating and testing of interfaces of mobile applications and websites in order to improve usability.

There are three methods of interface testing, namely expert evaluation, user-testing, and eye-tracking testing.

The inexpensive way of testing is expert evaluation, as it involves only one or two experts. The expert examines interface for compliance with generally accepted patterns of interface design, determines the most convenient solutions, based on the data about the target audience, and prepares a detailed report about the interface that describes how it can be improved.

On the other hand, both user-testing and eye-tracking involve real people (users, potential users, representatives of the target audience of the product).

In a typical user-testing, users are asked to perform certain actions (the actions, of course, involve interaction with the tested product), and information about the experiences and behavior of the users is recorded for further investigation. Also, the actions on the screen are recorded to determine the behavior of the user while using the application.

Eye-tracking testing is a more detailed method of user-testing. Eye-tracking testing involves recording of users’ eyes movements, so you can examine them and determine what interface elements are the most eye-catching.

Heat Map of Google search page

Heat Map of Google search page

As we have already mentioned, expert evaluation of the interface is the affordable way of testing, because it is carried out by only a couple of experts, whereas user-testing and eye-tracking testing are the expensive ways to determine the quality of the interface, as you have to invite users, interviewers, and people who will gather together the results of the research. And when it comes to eye-tracking, we should also take into account the high cost of equipment for this type of testing. On the other hand, the expert assessment gives lower quality results than testing on real people.

In the second part of this article we will tell you more about the way usability works in practice.

See also: Usability pt. II

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