Building The Right Thing: “I wanna talk to my usability guy…”

June 19, 2009 at 1:09 pm Leave a comment

Usability for users:

“Don’t make me think”Steve Krug said it best.

Usability for developers:

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker

Usability is the difference between building applications which conquer the world (OK –  metaphorically …)  and applications on a backup,  gathering dust on a shelf.

Just came off an assignment which involved a usability assessment for a “90% complete” system.  We identified  some low hanging fruit with potential  for improving the user experience  without excessive re-writes.

The changes fell in three categories:

  • Creating closer visual and spacial associations between UI elements needed to perform a given task. Simple  example:  The color of a currently selected master record in a list of expense claims  is the same color as elements of the part of the page which shows the detail record belonging to it.  A “Submit Claim” button related to the detail record is inside a border around the detail record, not outside it.
  • Use of terminology familiar to end users. Example:  A company’s purchasers talk about placing orders. Therefore, the relevant button on a purchase order form may be more appropriately called “Place Order” instead of  “Submit Order”.  (Especially if  in their world, they  associate “submitting” with  expense claims, not purchase orders.).
  • Better feedback on user actions. For example, saving a purchase order draft showed a “Changes Saved” message.  The message remained visible even after a user edited fields in the form afterwards.  This could lead users to believing that their draft was saved even if in reality, they would have to save it again in order to persist the latest updates.

I don’t think I would have done all that well in this kind of assessment had I been looking at my own work.  This one was an SES (“Somebody Else’s System”). I had never seen it before and I happened to be a reasonably close match for a potential real-world end user.  If I’m part of a team building an application, overfamiliarity tends to quickly desensitize me to noticing awkward usability as habit takes over. In addition, it takes focus to prioritize issues through the eyes of users instead of being a developer: Making a text change may be crucial to improve the user experience, but may not feature prominently in The Developer Mind – it’s too simple. At the same time, these text changes are (or should be?) linked to Domain Driven Design‘s notion of Ubiquitous Language, making them a lot more alluring (… and a lot less simple…)  to The Developer Mind. There is hope.

Extreme advice, mostly unusable:

“Don’t talk user interface to developers without a usability expert in the room.”


Entry filed under: User Experience. Tags: , , .

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