Usability

See also: user experience, human factors, human-computer interaction

Introductory articles

  • Introduction to usability
    Usability addresses the relationship between tools and their users. In order for a tool to be effective, it must allow intended users to accomplish their tasks in the best way possible. The same principle applies to computers, websites, and other software. In order for these systems to work, their users must be able to employ them effectively.

  • Usability 101
    What is usability? How, when, and where can you improve it? Why should you care? This overview answers these basic questions. This is the article to give to your boss or anyone else who doesn't have much time, but needs to know the basic usability facts.

  • Usability basics
    Usability is the measure of the quality of a user's experience when interacting with a product or system, whether a website, a software application, mobile technology, or any user-operated device.

  • Usability Book of Knowledge
    "The Usability Body of Knowledge (BoK) project is dedicated to creating a living reference that represents the collective knowledge of the usability profession. Preliminary work has started, but there is more to do. This website introduces the subject areas that will eventually be included in the Usability Body of Knowledge and a preview of what is to come."
    (Usability Professionals Association)

  • What does 'usability' mean? Looking beyond 'ease of use'
    The definition of usability is sometimes reduced to "easy to use," but this over-simplifies the problem and provides little guidance for the user interface designer. A more precise definition can be used to understand user requirements, formulate usability goals and decide on the best techniques for usability evaluations. An understanding of the five characteristics of usability--effective, efficient, engaging, error tolerant, easy to learn--helps guide the user-centred design tasks to the goal of usable products.

  • What is usability?
    Usability is an approach to product development that incorporates direct user feedback throughout the development cycle in order to reduce costs and create products and tools that meet user needs.

Discussion articles

  • 80% of consumers hate Flash intros
    On October 29th, Anna Murray, President e*media inc. ran a poll garnering responses from 579 consumers voting for their favorite of two home page variations for "Acme Haircare".   One version started with a Flash intro, the other was static HTML. 80% of respondents voted for the site without a Flash intro.

  • Achieving greater simplicity involves managing increasing complexity
    "As web designers, we need to be very careful about the lure of complexity. We should not fall into the trap of thinking that if it's hard to design, it must be good; that if it's using the latest technology, it must be good; that if all our friends think it's really cool, it must be good."
    (Gerry McGovern)

  • Applying the behavioural, cognitive and social sciences to products
    "Science is mostly analysing. Engineering is doing. The difference between these two is profound, and it affects not only the way that your knowledge is applied, but even the culture of the workplace. Working for a company is very different than working for a university: the reward system is different, the role of criticism is different, and the value of group efforts is different."
    (Donald Norman)

  • Are the notions of thoroughness, efficiency and validity valid in HCI practice?
    "This article looks at the notions of thoroughness, efficiency, and validity and the application of these metrics to evaluate usability inspection methods in practice. It illustrates how measures of thoroughness, efficiency, and validity have been assigned to particular methods by researchers who have aimed to assess usability inspection methods in practical situations. The article points out a number of deficiencies with this approach, explaining why, in practice, it is neither feasible nor desirable to compute such measures."
    (Gitte Lindgard)

  • Avoiding an extreme makeover
    "By leaving usability considerations out of architectural considerations, software developers assume that if usability problems are discovered, they can be easily fixed. In practice, some usability issues reach too deep into the architecture to be fixed at a reasonable cost. As with any other qualities that you want to architect into your software, usability must be considered up front, at the beginning of the process, and not left until the end."
    (Jonathan Boutelle and Rashmi Sinha)

  • Back to basics
    "Design and optimize products around basic features. The result - you will sell more products and improve the chances of people using secondary features (such as value added services)."
    (Daniel Szuc and Gerry Gaffney)

  • Back to the user: creating user-focused websites
    Since our earliest interviews with web users, enormous progress has been made in shaping sites that inform, engage and build lasting customer relationships. We've all come a long way. That being said, when we observe target users trying out websites in our consumer lab, some common problems persist. This article summarises five key lessons learned from listening to and observing all kinds of users (from teens to seniors to doctors) try out all kinds of websites at various stages of development. Our goal: to provide some overarching guidelines about bringing a customer voice to site design.

  • Blink, scroll, flicker: three ways to ruin your website
    A client's web team were looking sadly at the 'scrolling news' feature they were forced to carry on many pages. 'We hate it, we want to get rid of it, but we need evidence.' So I've done a bit of trawling for reasons why you can and should remove these features.

  • Complexity again - isn't progress wonderful?
    "Today we can start the car with ease. But our intrepid automobile interior design teams have compensated for that simplicity. Now you have to learn how to open the doors, how to operate the temperature controls, how to change radio stations. We used to have to take classes to start the engine. Today we need lessons to set the clock. Isn’t progress wonderful?"
    (Don Norman)

  • Convincing clients to pay for usability
    Professionally run design agencies user test their designs to increase the value they deliver to their clients. The challenge is getting clients to understand the benefits of a solid development methodology.

  • Crashes, bugs and workarounds - developers must do better
    It's close to the oldest story in computing. A friend of mine used to wear a button on his jacket that said, "You'll have to wait; the computer is down." The message proved correct often enough to be funny. Many jokes revolve around the sure and certain knowledge that computers crash often enough that you have to save your data often. People now consider it normal to find that something--product, service, whatever--is unavailable because a computer, somewhere, is down.

  • Design as practiced
    Design as practiced is considerably different from design as idealised in academic discussions of "good design." A few years ago, I made the transition from the university to industry--a deliberate decision on my part to practice what I had long been preaching, and to try to understand the constraints and pressures from the business point of view. How nice it would be, I thought, to be able to see products in the marketplace that reflected my design philosophy. This chapter recounts one stage of my learning process: issues that seem simple from the vantage point of academia are often extremely complex when seen from inside the industry. Indeed, the two sides seem hardly to be speaking the same language. In the course of my experiences, I have come to recognize that industry faces numerous problems that are outside of the scope of the traditional analyses of design. In particular, there are management and organisational issues, business concerns, and even corporate culture.

  • Devising a new paradigm for usable, maintainable web applications
    Why does usability tend to lag behind as web applications become increasingly complex? Much of this lag can be attributed to the fact that the languages we use to create web pages are not optimised for usability engineering. It is often the goal of the developer to simply get an application to function--but not necessarily function well--because the tools at the developer’s disposal do not promote such a thought process. If we are to make usability engineering a more implemented discipline, we need a language that more tightly couples how users interact with software and how developers develop code.

  • Discount usability: time to push back the pendulum?
    Discount usability techniques are a great way to eradicate usability problems. But they can never answer the question, "How usable is this system?" We blow the dust off some techniques commonly used in the early days of usability testing to see if they can provide an answer.

  • Discount usability vs. usability gurus: a middle ground
    I have always been uncomfortable with the notion of "discount usability engineering." I am a strong believer in the old adage that "you get what you pay for", and I believe this lesson needs to be learned yet again by the web development industry. As a consultant, I have in fact adapted my methods to fit very tight web development timeframes, but I have always known - and tried to explain to my clients - that there is a cost to using less reliable, less rigorous methods, and that that cost is increased risk of product failure.

  • Eight problems that haven't changed
    "Webmonkey is pleased to present this excerpt from the new book, Prioritizing Web Usability, by Jakob Nielsen and Hoa Loranger. "
    (Jakob Nielsen, Hoa Loranger - Webmonkey)

  • Enemies of usability
    Peter Morville discusses a range of issues and attitudes that provide a stumbling block for usability.

  • Enterprise usability
    "Individual usability is pretty much a solved problem. We have the usability methods down pat, and anybody can learn the most important ones in a few days. We also have thousands of guidelines that are known to enhance usability for individual users. Group-level usability and enterprise usability are less well defined: they've been researched less and are more variable. This doesn't mean that you should ignore these levels. On the contrary, it means that you should make sure to study them in your own organization."
    (Jakob Nielsen, Alertbox)

  • Examining web design conventions across site types
    This study examined the viability of a Category-Based Usability Theory, which indicates that usability of websites should be accounted for on the basis of the category the website is in. While web design experts have provided general design guidelines, it is believed that with different site types, design guidelines may differ.

  • Flashes of brilliance and use-centered design
    Can Macromedia Flash really add value to a website? Or is Flash content on the Web so prone to usability problems that it can never be fully effective?

  • Flywheels, kinetic energy and friction
    "If you want someone to do something, you need to build what amounts to a funnel, or pathway. Help the reader identify the one thing they want, and then simplify and 'narrow' the design and the text in order to focus on that one thing, and build energy and enthusiasm within the reader. Take away any distractions, visually or with words. Focus on the one thing."
    (Nick Usborne - A List Apart)

  • Form follows function
    The basic rule for any design is "Form follows function". If an object has to perform a certain function, its design must support that function to the fullest extent possible.

  • Four words to improve user research
    Unlike many practitioners, I use a research method that is a bit different from the established teaching of usability and HCI. The method is the "listening lab": a more open-ended version of the traditional usability test. Listening labs generate strategic findings, not just tactics, and point the way to measurable business results, not just usability results like task success or time-on-task

  • Gateway pages prevent PDF shock
    Spare your users the misery of being dumped into PDF files without warning. Create special gateway pages that summarise the contents of big documents and guide users gently into the PDF morass.

  • Gorilla usability
    Gorilla usability is about getting out from behind the video camera, the reports, the stats and all the guru commandments and actually getting to know your users.

  • Graphic design vs usability
    The GUI Olympics is an annual event where top graphic designers converge to design the latest and greatest "skins" for the Winamp media player, Windows themes and icons. The event is in its final week, and while it's wrapping up it might be useful to reflect on a couple of note-worthy items that relate to popular misconceptions of usability and graphic design...

  • Hardware and usability, part 1
    It's pretty easy to identify the things that annoy you when using a computer. Since these annoyances are typically software-based, software developers tend to get most of the flak for unusable systems and applications. But some problems have little or nothing to do with the zeroes and ones. In fact, some of the worst computer snafus have to do with poorly designed and implemented hardware. The next couple of installments of The cranky user look at the negative effects of lousy hardware choices on usability. I'll start this one with a look at how poorly designed hardware impacts one of the most important features of your computer system: reliability.

  • How big is the difference between websites?
    The average difference in measured usability between competing websites is 68%. This is smaller than expected, but makes sense given the dynamics of design within individual industries.

  • Hyped web stories are irrelevant
    "The fads and big deals that get the press coverage are not important for running a workhorse website. To serve your customers, it's far better to emphasize simplicity and quality than to chase buzzwords. The most important story of them all gets almost no hype: we're seeing more and more simple websites that meet customers' needs and thus generate substantial business value. Often the sites that do nothing special are the best: it's more important to focus on doing basic things right than to chase the latest fad."

  • Improving usability for screen reader users
    "Simply ensuring your website is accessible to screen reader users is unfortunately not enough to ensure these users can find what they're looking for in a reasonably quick and efficient manner. Even if your site is accessible to screen reader users, its usability could be so incredibly poor that they needn't have bothered coming to your site. Fortunately, there are plenty of simple-to-implement guidelines you can follow, which not only drastically improve usability for screen reader users, but for all web users."
    (Trenton Moss)

  • Information architecture is not usability
    The distinction between information architecture and usability may seem like semantics, but there are significant differences between the two disciplines. Though they are often discussed interchangeably, and practitioners are often well-versed in both, information architecture and usability differ in their scope and areas of focus.

  • Interaction modeling - user state-trace analysis
    "Interaction modeling is a good way to identify and locate usability issues with the use of a tool. Several methods exist (see Olson & Olson 1990 for a review of techniques). Modeling techniques are prescriptive in that they aim to capture what users will likely do, and not descriptive of what users actually did. This article presents a three-part method of interaction modeling where: a prescriptive, preferred interaction model (PIM) is created, a descriptive user-interaction model (UIM) derived from an actual user study session is created, a model of problem solving and decision making (PDM) is used to interpret disparities between the first two models."
    (Matt Queen - Boxes and Arrows)

  • Invest in usability: testing versus training
    "Instead of spending so much time and energy on usability testing, usability specialists should spend more time training the designers and developers. Teach designers and developers to better understand usability as both an attribute and a process so that these intelligent folks understand how usability can be added to a product or service."
    (John S. Rhodes)

  • Is beauty the new usability attribute?
    "Hassenzahl's studies suggest that the emotional aspects of the design are important in attracting customers in the first place. Hedonic properties around beauty clearly influence first impressions. However, when getting stuff done matters, perceived usability--judged through usage over time--is what matters most."
    (Mark Hall, Kath Straub - Human Factors International)

  • Is perceived usability/aesthetics more important than real?
    "Quite often good characteristics--whether usability or aesthetics--are not perceived, in part because they are taken for granted. The human perceptual and attentional systems are tuned to notice discrepancies and problems, not that which is expected. So we tend to notice things that distract, that impair our ability to get something done, or in the realm of aesthetics, that are particularly distasteful. We do indeed notice especially attractive items (or people), but quite often the attention drawn to the appearance can be detrimental to the task. So the best designs are often the ones that are least noticed."
    (Donald Norman)

  • Is usability repeatable?
    When one hires a carpenter, one can expect similar results between a any skilled carpenters. They all have a basic set of tools: hammers, saws, screwdrivers. All of which are used to help them do their jobs right every time. Usability has a pretty impressive toolkit as well: contextual inquiries, think aloud testing, personas, interviews, focus groups, etc. So if someone hires a competent usability consultancy, they should expect mostly the same results as the next, right?

  • Joining strategy and usability: the Customer Experience Methodology (PDF)
    The customer experience methodology (CEM) is a business-oriented method of creating positive change to the customer experience of an online technology. Creative Good has measured improvements of 40% to 150% in its six years of using the CEM for its consulting projects.

  • Offshore usability
    To save costs, some companies are outsourcing web projects to countries with cheap labour. Unfortunately, these countries lack strong usability traditions and their developers have limited access--if any--to good usability data from the target users.

  • Lost in gallery space: a conceptual framework for analysing the usability flaws of museum web sites
    This article reports on a study which used results from 119 scenario-based evaluations of 36 museum web sites to develop a conceptual framework for analysing the usability flaws of museum web sites. It identifies 15 unique dimensions, grouped into five categories, that exemplify usability problems common to many museum web sites. Each dimension is discussed in detail, and typical examples are provided, based on actual usability flaws observed during the evaluations. The availability of this conceptual framework will help the designers of museum web sites improve the overall usability of museum web sites in general.

  • Low-end media for user empowerment
    Fancy media on websites typically fails user testing. Simple text and clear photos not only communicate better with users, they also enhance users' feeling of control and thus support the web's mission as an instant gratification environment.

  • Making online information usable
    Results and observations from dozens of usability studies conduct by User Interface Engineering that focus on how people use a variety of printed and online documentation, including manuals, help, cue-cards, and wizards.

  • Measuring the value of usability engineering
    Practitioners in the field of usability engineering refer to the demonstration of the value of usability engineering as the "Holy Grail" of the field. Such an allusion implies that this proof is something that may or may not exist, but that would be the treasure of a lifetime. If proof of the value of usability is so desirable, why don't usability engineers spend more time measuring it? Here are seven reasons I have observed why usability engineers don't measure the value of usability efforts, rebuttals to each argument, and suggestions for how to remedy them.

  • Medical usability: how to kill patients through bad design
    " A field study identified twenty-two ways that automated hospital systems can result in the wrong medication being dispensed to patients. Most of these flaws are classic usability problems that have been understood for decades."
    (Jakob Nielsen)

  • Misconceptions about usability
    Misconceptions about usability's expense, the time it involves, and its creative impact prevent companies from getting crucial user data, as does the erroneous belief that existing customer-feedback methods are a valid driver for interface design.

  • Multiple mistakes drown interface
    A single major error can damage an interface. Make two of them and you're in real trouble. Make it three or four and you're doomed.

  • Net rage: a study of blogs and usability
    "Even assuming mainstream interest, current blog design standards - at least in terms of navigation, nomenclature and taxonomy - are a barrier to consumer acceptance. In fact, the design of most blogs can incite 'net rage' (in the words of one test participant)."
    (Catalyst Group Design)

  • NHS direct website too complicated for diabetes sufferers
    The language of the diabetes pages of the NHS Direct Online site can only be understood by people whose reading ability is well beyond that of the average UK citizen, reports a new survey conducted at the University of Bath. It warns of potential 'serious consequences' of patients misunderstanding the information.

  • Number one skill for managing a website
    "Web management is about understanding how people interact with content. You won’t learn to become an effective web manager by sitting behind your desk. Get out there and wear out some shoe leather."
    (Gerry McGovern)

  • PDF: unfit for human consumption
    Users get lost inside PDF files, which are typically big, linear text blobs that are optimised for print and unpleasant to read and navigate online. PDF is good for printing, but that's it. Don't use it for online presentation.

  • Pervasive usability
    Pervasive usability advocates the application of methods to evaluate a design’s usability at every stage of the design process, keeping in mind the goals of the project and the users' needs. Pervasive usability stands out from other usability testing methods as it can be conducted throughout the product’s lifecycle, not just in the preliminary development stages. It’s also unique because the steps involved in this method are quite simple, and can be less taxing on those conducting the test.

  • Power to the people
    "Relentlessly simple solutions to complex design problems can be the difference between an average experience and a great one. D. Keith Robinson reminds web designers and developers that ease of use is more important than technological sophistication."
    (D Keith Robinson - A List Apart)

  • Predictive usability
    "Historically, usability research was focused on identifying obstacles to success, not on assessing how intensely people will desire a new product or service. The brilliant teams who designed the new products that I have worked on have all been grateful for the findings that helped them fine-tune their products, but what they appreciated more than anything was a sense of whether people would use them to begin with."
    (Andrew Swartz)

  • Preventing usability problems from the get-go
    We've studied the development practices of hundreds of organizations over the years, trying to identify how usability problems get introduced into designs. When a team is focused on making the design work, without looking at making it usable, it's not unusual for usability problems to become baked into the design. It's not that the team wants an unusable design. It's that they have no way to know that they've made it so. They are so focused on the technology issues that they don't look for these types of problems.
    (Jared M. Spool)

  • Profits first, users second
    The purpose of this article is to challenge a core belief in usability. An argument is made that profits are more important than users since organisations cannot survive without profits. Although the business value is high, usability is only one mechanism for driving profits and success.

  • Reduce visual clutter to improve usability
    A modern home page often includes a barrage of information. We need to reduce this visual clutter or we risk overwhelming site visitors and making it difficult for those visitors to find what they're looking for. There are several contributing factors for this trend. One factor is designers who work on large, high-resolution monitors and don't adequately test their designs on smaller monitors at lower-resolution settings.

  • Remote control anarchy
    The six remote controls required for a simple home theatre illustrate the problems caused by complexity and inconsistency in user interfaces.

  • Renewing my driving license online in 50 tortuous steps
    The best websites make our lives easier, while the worst ones make our lives more difficult. After trying to renew my driving license online, I was stunned by how awful some websites still are. Much of the web is a quagmire of appalling design and even worse management.

  • Renewing my driving license online: a Kafkaesque experience: part 2
    Action is what matters on the web. Someone comes to your website in order to do something. The only measure of success that counts is whether they have been able to do what they came to your website to do.

  • Seeking clarity on consistency
    "The value of consistency isn't hard to see: Sites that are consistent are easier to learn. There is positive transfer from one area of the site to the others. To ensure this, interface design guidelines tend to preach consistency. Since no one had an evidence-driven definition for consistency, designers tend to interpret this recommendation quite literally. Usability experts focus sharply on continuity within an interface as a determiner of usability. But are we too focused?"
    (Kath Straub)

  • Server side usability
    Most usability professionals don't have a driver's licence to web servers and are not aware of the steps that can be taken to make servers behave in a user-friendly way. In this article, we'll take a look at how to avoid that server technology becomes an obstacle to usability.

  • Strike a balance: users' expertise on interface design
    Computers and users process information in distinct ways--so do individual users. Although it's relatively easy to get a computer to understand input, what with fixed standards and universal APIs, usability with human users is not absolute. User interface usability is relative to the experience level of individual users. UI designer Mike Padilla provides an overview of UI design for web-based productivity software with a focus on the broadest range of users, examining what makes an application UI usable and detailing concepts that can facilitate an efficient, broad-based UI design.

  • Technomasochism: do users like pain?
    Ever notice when a user seems to enjoy and even revel in the sense of achievement when overcoming a particularly difficult interface? Are these people Technomasochists? Can something actually be too easy to use?

  • Ten most persistent design bugs
    Welcome to the Over the Hill Gang, design bugs that have been around so long that we've begun to think of them as folk heros. However, the usual requirement for turning a public enemy into a folk hero is death, not longevity, and so it should be for these worthies: Their executions are long overdue.
    (Bruce Tognazzini)

  • The Art of Unix Usability
    This online book is about software usability engineering for Unix programmers, the presentational side of Unix software design. Its scope includes not only user interface design, but other related challenges such as making software easy to install, learn, and administer.

  • The battle between usability and user experience
    "The main reasons why it is so hard to create usable products is that there is a conflict between a high-usability level and great user-experience. You might think this as strange, but there is a important difference between the two."
    (Thomas Baekdal)

  • The designer is dead, long live the designer
    Usability maharishis, with idiosyncratic attitudes and blaring random opinions about design, irritate me. While the importance of their field has been acknowledged for some years now, it is simply a sham to assume or suggest their role is principal (or sole) in shaping user interaction. In this column I will go as far as stating the contrary: design comes first, usability second.

  • The end of usability culture
    Strike a match. Close your eyes. Hold the light high up in the air. Sway back and forth. C’mon, pay a proper tribute. The usability paradigm in Web design is about to end.
    (Dirk Kneymeyer)

  • The end of usability culture, redux
    Like any tribute that hearkens the end of one trend and the beginning of another, my article, The end of usability culture, received quite a bit of both support and dissent. The dialogue surrounding it revealed gaps in the article, gaps in how different people perceived and interpreted it, and added new insight and opinion to the conversation. The topic deserves a longer and more in-depth look.
    (Dirk Kneymeyer)

  • The information architecture of email
    At least several times a year, I try (I really do) to set up folders to sort my email. I am an information architect, after all. Setting up folders is, according to my job description, my area of expertise. Actually, I suck at setting up folders for email. Gmail is Google’s foray into the free email market, and attempts to address these inherent limitations. Gmail revealed to me my email behaviour--something I hadn’t previously given much thought.

  • The joy of usability
    It’s a challenging time for the usability profession, no doubt. Many people are still unaware of (or worse, profoundly uninterested in) what we do for a living. The job market, at least in the US, has been tough for usability specialists the past couple years. More insidious but perhaps more deadly, we threaten to tear ourselves apart from within, fighting (albeit politely) over methodologies, certifications, or points of protocol such as whether it’s appropriate to have observers in the room during usability tests. So let’s pause for a moment to reconnect with the joy of usability.

  • The myth of discoverability
    Discoverability is often defined as the ability for a user of a design to locate something that they need, in order to complete a certain task. It's common to hear programmers and designers utter the phrase "that won’t be discoverable", while pointing to a specific command or link they believe users will fail to find. The trap, and the myth of discoverability is that in any design, not everything can be discoverable.

  • The need for web design standards
    The entire concept of "web design" is a misnomer. Individual project teams are not designing the web any more than individual ants are designing an anthill. Site designers build components of a whole, especially now that users are viewing the entirety of the web as a single, integrated resource. Unfortunately, much of the web is like an anthill built by ants on LSD: many sites don't fit into the big picture, and are too difficult to use because they deviate from expected norms.

  • The persistence of usability myths
    Last year we researched the top 10 usability myths. A number of people, including technology pundits, had attacked usability. We thought the attacks were based on misconceptions. For example, one misconception was that usability is purely a matter of ensuring fast download times. We conducted an online survey to see whether web professionals agreed with the pundits.

  • The road to usability
    How far have we come since the early days of the web? Usability expert Tim Bray, founder and CTO of Antarcti.ca Systems (www.antarcti.ca), says we're still taking baby steps, but we already have the tools to move forward.

  • The socio-usability dilemma (PDF)
    "Computer-mediated communication systems (CMC) facilitate the gathering and interaction of a group of people through means of computation. Their design and development revolves around two main areas: usability and sociability. The group's interests and rationale can often conflict with those of the user resulting in tension which can be damaging and even destructive. CMC developers are faced with a dilemma as they try to accommodate both sides and achieve a productive balance."
    (Amir Dotan)

  • These websites are identical--or are they?
    This article presents the results of a survey the websites of some of the more influential figures in web design and usability.

  • The sphere of design
    The web design community thankfully seems to be wrapping up the "design vs. usability" argument. Design leaders have proved that web sites can be both usable and beautiful, but we lack a vocabulary to talk about this new standard. This article introduces the "Sphere of Design", which is a simple conceptual model that illustrates the relationship and trade-offs between 'looks' and 'works'.

  • The truth about Google's so-called simplicity
    "Anybody can make a simple-looking interface if the system only does one thing. If you want to do one of the many other things Google is able to do, oops, first you have to figure out how to find it, then you have to figure out which of the many offerings to use, then you have to figure out how to use it. And because all those other things are not on the home page but, instead, are hidden away in various mysterious places, extra clicks and operations are required for even simple tasks--if you can remember how to get to them."
    (Donald Norman)

  • Top 7 usability blunders of the big players
    After all this time I'm still astonished to see the same old usability blunders repeated in large, brand new sites. Though the use of technology may have changed, the issues with user interface and functionality design persist.

  • Top 10 decisions that reduce usability
    Did you ever wonder why some products are well designed and easy to use and others are not? The answer is simple--decision makers and budget holders make decisions with little thought of how they reduce usability.

  • Top 10 usability blunders of the big players
    Trenton Moss reports on poor usability of websites such as AOL, Ford, Monster and Real Player.

  • Top reasons why usability doesn't pay
    "Unfortunately that’s just not the case; often a usability project will completely fail to deliver measurable benefits, and this can have a devastating effect on future organizational commitment to the user-centered cause. The good news though is that this is easily avoidable. So, in reverse order here are the top six reasons for failing to see a good return on investment from usability, and how to avoid them."
    (Gary Bunker - UI Garden)

  • Top ten web design mistakes of 2002
    Every year brings new mistakes. In 2002, several of the worst mistakes in web design related to poor email integration. The number one mistake, however, was lack of pricing information, followed by overly literal search engines.

  • Top ten web design mistakes of 2003
    2003 was two steps forward, one step back: sites are getting better at using minimalist design, maintaining archives, and offering comprehensive services. However, these advances entail their own usability problems, as several prominent mistakes from 2003 show.

  • Top ten web design mistakes of 2005
    "The oldies continue to be goodies--or rather, baddies--in the list of design stupidities that irked users the most in 2005."
    (Jakob Nielsen)

  • Two sigma - usability and six sigma quality assurance
    On average across many test tasks, users fail 35% of the time when using websites. This is 100,000 times worse than six sigma's requirement, but Web usability can still benefit from a six sigma quality approach.

  • Usability and listening to customers have limits
    Listening to customers and making sure your website is usable are important to website success. It is much more important, however, to have a website that delivers real value both to the organisation and the reader. Going for value can sometimes mean going against customer feedback and usability best practice.

  • Usability basics for software developers (PDF)
    This tutorial examines the relationship between usability and the user interface and discusses how the usability process follows a design-evaluate-redesign cycle. It also discusses some management issues an organisation must face when applying usability techniques.

  • Usability doesn't have to be ugly
    "There is a balance that needs to be struck between a website that is truly functional and one that is elegant and stylish."
    (Gerry McGovern - New Thinking)

  • Usability: empiricism or ideology?
    "Usability's job is to research user behavior and find out what works. Usability should also defend users' rights and fight for simplicity. Both aspects have their place, and it's important to recognize the difference."
    (Jakob Nielsen)

  • Usability for $200
    How can a small company's website benefit from usability activities despite a miniscule budget? By integrating four simple and effective usability practices into the design process.

  • Usability is good management
    The professional manager is always looking for feedback. They test their plans and theories constantly. They are sensitive to cues within their environment, adapting as appropriate. The website manager operates within a feedback-starved environment. Thus, they need to be much more proactive in seeking feedback. Usability is a way of doing this.

  • Usability myths need reality checks
    Not so very long ago, it was agreed that five to eight users was enough for a good usability test. Somehow, this idea achieved mythic status. We believed it. We preached it to everyone who would listen. It survived in areas where it had been disproved, and was introduced into new situations where it didn't even apply. What gives some ideas such staying power?

  • Usability of artifacts
    The purpose of this chapter is to identify the multiple dimensions of usability. A comprehensive discussion concerning the meanings associated with usability is needed to construct a model of usability-related product evaluation and operational measures for it in the following chapters. The concept of usability is explicitly defined by a number of references in order to prepare the ground for the usability measurements. However, if the question of whether usability influences product preference is considered only with regard to these definitions the view might be unnecessarily restricted. Consequently, the following chapters aim at presenting an approach to usability which includes different related aspects of usability: experienced usability, apparent usability, user friendliness, quality of user interface, etc. Usability is implied, in addition to the definitions, by the conventions of the discipline, the tools used to assess it, the qualifications of the practitioners, etc.

  • User interface design compromise: taking the good with the bad (PDF)
    Have you noticed how easy it is to immediately identify several perceived deficiencies in any UI design? This is possible because of the nature of compromise in UI design. Even the best design solutions have some drawbacks and oftentimes team members may point these out in an effort to change the design. But every design solution has some deficiencies. Every single one. The presence of such deficiencies does not make a design solution a bad one. What makes one
    design solution better than another is the overall net usability that it offers. The good – the bad = the net good. The net good is the ultimate measure.
    (Mike Padilla)

  • Well designed products
    A common affliction plaguing many of us interaction designers is the propensity to complain and kvetch about every piece of software on our computers, cell-phones and cars. And it's true, there is a lot of bad software out there. To offset this sometimes irritating tendency to critique and redesign everything we see, I'd like to offer a selection of software that I consider to be truly well-designed. To avoid creating a list that is simply an expression of my personal taste (which of course it is, to some extent), I devised some criteria as necessary aspects of a well-designed software product.

  • What is the relationship between usability and accessibility and what should it be?
    "In this presentation, my aim is to generate discussion about the relationship between usability and accessibility based on an examination of what each is about and what practitioners in each field do. I will use this as a basis to consider whether usability and accessibility are compatible design approaches, whether accessibility improves usability, and vice versa, and how practitioners in each field are--and should be--affected by the relationship between accessibility and usability."
    (Dey Alexander)

  • What is usability?
    There is some confusion about what usability is and whether businesses are 'doing usability' or not. There are many aspects to usability - more than just running a usability test at the end of a project. This article provides an overview of what usability is (and what it is not). It provides ideas on how to include more usability activities in projects and the types of activities that are needed in order to create more usable systems.

  • When discount usability misleads management - a solution
    "Usability folks often interact with marketing folks about progress on Web site design. Do they speak the same language? That is the question. If you tell someone that 80% of your test subjects 'succeeded', how might you be misleading them? Know how to qualify your discount usability test results with a 'margin of error'."
    (John Sorflaten)

  • Why consistency is critical
    "There is little doubt that consistency is important for users. Consistency makes sites easier to use, because visitors don't have to learn new tricks as they move around."
    (Gerry Gaffney)

  • Why listening to users can damage your website
    "In the evaluation of computer interfaces there is a history of mismatch between user’s success with an interface and their verbal assessment. In the field of commercial Web Site Usability, this mismatch is critical, as poor usability can alienate potential users and divert them to competitor sites."
    (David Unsworth)

  • XMLHttpRequest, Ajax and the customer experience
    "Let's proceed with caution. What we're talking about is technology, not the user experience. Ajax-based apps certainly have the potential to produce a better user experience, but good experiences never come by default. Good experiences aren't plugged in. Good experiences are crafted by thinking about people, not technology."
    (Jason Fried)

Research articles

Case studies

  • 90% of S&P Global 100 companies fail annual report usability standards
    "Less than 10% of the world's 100 largest public companies are meeting basic usability requirements for their online annual reports to shareholders-and standards have worsened over the past three years."
    (Dominic Jones)

  • Tackling usability gotchas in large-scale site redesigns
    Improving usability is a good motivation for redesigns, but redesigns often introduce new usability problems. In this article, I’ll discuss one such problem and the way we addressed it, focusing on the creative dilemma and its solution rather than on the technical implementation details.

Glossaries

  • Usability glossary
    A browsable and searchable glossary from Usability First, with over 1000 terms.

Resource collections

  • Articles on usability
    A collection of links to high quality online resources on usability. Part of the EServer TC Library project