Everyday Usability

Usability is often regarded as a nebulous concept or ideal. This is the natural result of usability professionals developing their own odd little language with their unique acronyms and buzzwords. Outsiders are sometimes left with just a fuzzy notion of usability. Part of the difficulty lies in distilling down usability into something you can describe to the uninitiated at a party or in the first 30 seconds of a meeting. People come away with ‘you make things easier to use’.

In some ways this works to the advantage of usability designers. We retain some of the aura of power that practicing a mysterious discipline imparts. It’s hard to explain how varied and complex the activities involved in our jobs are. What does GOMS mean to a client or manager in another department? It means you know something they don’t. It also means that usability is something removed from people. That seems odd. Usability is supposed to be about making life easier for people everywhere, every day. It’s about removing the little frustrations and inefficiencies that slow people down and hold back potential productivity gains.

It is easy to lose focus while going through the many detailed activities in our jobs. We can lose sight of the message we are sending to the people around us. The message we are sending to the people that use our systems. As usability professionals we need to involve the people we are designing for to help us reach our goals. We can do that by keeping channels of communication open. By listening to what users want to tell us. When people are frustrated they want to vent. We can channel that by telling people that they can vent to us. They can tell us what frustrates them and why. We can and we should enlist users as partners in our efforts to improve usability in systems throughout organizations.

Kevin Hall
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