The rapid growth of RIA technology into the lives of every day people just a few years ago has carried both the usability and user experience industries to a new high in popularity. The success of software (particularly on the web) has driven both of these terms into our vernacular, and yet they are still often confused or thought to be synonymous. This post is meant to help those new to the field or unfamiliar with the intricacies of design to understand the differences between the terms.
A crash course in usability
Usability is a term used to denote the ease with which people can employ a particular tool or other human-made object in order to achieve a particular goal. (via Wikipedia)
When it comes to web design, usability, in essence, is how easy your users can get around your site. It all comes down to you making your users think about what they have to do as little as possible. When the user has to think about something as basic as getting around a site, it can become tedious and can turn your user off your site.
If trending topics surrounding design blogs are any reflection of trends in design, then usability is what coffee is to freelancers. Usability is a study of human-computer interaction that helps designers analyze our users´ patterns as they use our creations. While we cannot fully predict our users´ interactions, we are able to brace for them through how we style and place elements on our page.
If we could tear into the fabric of time and look a decade into the future, what kind of experience might we find? It´s easy to imagine the technology would be much more advanced. Something out of a film like Minority Report with holographic touchscreens, or so advanced of an A.I. (artificial intelligence) that the application anticipates solutions without the user having to do much else.
In reality the kinds of products, websites, and applications that survive and continue to be effective are those that that focus on the user experience. The digital world evolves continually, but we need to manage this by making sure we don´t leave the people who use our applications and websites in the dust. In this article we will explore creating a timeless user experience.
One of the most overlooked aspects in designing a website that we often brush off is web accessibility. There´s a misconception that web accessibility requires sacrifices to aesthetics, or that it´s not worth the effort.
But, with a growing number of ways that users access the web, creating highly-accessible and universal designs that can be viewed in as many ways as possible is critical to the success of a website.
And here´s the good news: it isn´t as hard as you think.
The web has become a part of our lives. Folks from all walks of life, from upscale parts of New York to dirt road villages you probably will never hear of in Burundi, are all a part of what we call "the internet". The reasons they use the web is highly varied: it could be to search for news articles, directions to the nearest pub, the winter/fall clothing trends, post-grad research, or shopping for a handbag, the list is endless. It could be anyone too. It´d be impossible to try to classify web users in any particular demographic range.
On top of the web´s ubiquity, the web has gotten to an interactive all time high. Users don´t just seek information, they interact with it in more novel ways than we can ever imagine.
And it´s only going to get better: we are seeing a myriad of emerging web apps and website trends that are revolutionizing the way we use and obtain information on the web.
With this concept in mind, usability, how effortless it is to interact and use your website, is critical to its success. This article discusses five important usability tips that your site can´t live without.
Maybe I´m not very smart (don´t answer that!). Possibly it´s because I got my Graphic Design degree almost 20 years ago. Or maybe it´s because most of what I´ve learned about UX design is geared toward eLearning, where the overriding goal is to make sure the user has the best possible chance of absorbing whatever content is presented. But I seem to have some concepts about what constitutes good usability that are at odds with what I see demonstrated on websites that are about UX and design or are by people who are using their sites to market their UX design services. Before I get specific about what I´m seeing in these sites, I thought I´d outline what the criteria are for me for good UX.
- Content is first. Every element should support the user´s ability to read textual content, listen to audio content, view graphical or video content, etc.
- Navigation should be clear and intuitive, and there should be just enough of it to make sure the user is always aware of where they are and why they are there.
And that´s really it. I haven´t found anyone advocating illegible text and sites where you can´t tell what´s going on (or, conversely, you can easily tell what´s going on but it takes you several extra clicks to get there), but in site after site devoted to design and UX, I am seeing some disturbing trends.
I´d like to focus this post on one study QFD adapted for its purposes focused on requirements. The research team examined the requirements businesses produced for their projects and identified three main categories: normal requirements, expected requirements and exciting requirements. Understanding the differences in these types of requirements really crystallized for me the importance of UX testing and why UX professionals are so valuable. The team was lead by one Professor Noriaki Kano, and so this model became known as the Kano model of product development and customer satisfaction. Professor Kano´s team was not doing research for QFD itself, but the QFD institute has adapted his methods and uses this model in their larger view of customer satisfaction. This oft-referenced graphic sums up the model well:
There has been much talk about all of the businesses that are sprouting up in regards to the real-time web. But, it can be confusing for the user because there is so much out there. They key for users is to first recognize what they are looking to do on the real time web. Once that is known, it is important to know where to go to get the information that is being looked for. The rewards can be plentiful as the real time web offers outstanding resources once the user becomes experienced with how to use it.
Below, you’ll find the user experience of the real time web based on some set of functions which is easy to understand and convenient to apply as Real-time information delivery is fast emerging as one of the most important elements of our online experience.
Stories have defined our world. They have been with us since the dawn of communication, from cave walls to the tall tales recounted around fires. They have continued to evolve with their purpose remaining the same; To entertain, to share common experiences, to teach, and to pass on traditions.
Today we communicate a bit differently. Our information is fragmented across various mass-media channels and delivered through ever-changing technology. It has become watered down, cloned, and is churned out quickly in 140-character blurbs. We’ve lost that personal touch where we find an emotional connection that makes us care.
In January of each year, we flip over the hourglass and, once again, we have everything in front of us. The new year gives us a clean slate, a chance for change and encouragement to evolve the way we do things. In the past, we’ve yielded to client and user requests to pack our website designs full of unrelated features and countless pages of duplicate information. The change we have been waiting for has come - our users have matured. 2010 is the year of Design Simplicity.