Usability made simple

[tweetmeme source=”Intellogist” only_single=false]Although we all struggle with graphical user interfaces every day, most of us will wind up blaming ourselves for our lack of success; actually, sometimes it’s just poor design that makes an application frustrating to use.  I’m currently taking a design course, and I’m amazed how many interfaces that I interact with in everyday life don’t meet some simple criteria for good “usability,” the ease-of-use and learning curve needed to become proficient on a system. When we started to work on evaluating patent search systems for Intellogist, we included a usability section in each in-depth Intellogist Report to address overall usability quality.

For those who won’t be able to take a formal course on interface design, it’s unclear what rules interface developers are living by (if any!).   Products which benefit from the attention of a usability expert can improve dramatically in user experience, and as a consequence, they just might get used more often.  Here are three rules to use when designing an interface:

1.  Will the user understand how to perform the task they want to do?  Will they know what menu to look in, what option to click, etc.?

2. Will the user be able to find the correct action?  Is it a big red button in the center of the page, or is it hiding unnoticed in the corner as a tiny hyperlink?

3.  Will the user receive feedback after performing the action that indicates the desired function is being performed?  Will the software hang indefinitely, or will a “search progress” bar show how much has been done?

I didn’t make these points up, of course.  These are all part of the “cognitive walkthrough” process that usability experts perform to see if an interface measures up to basic expectations.

The only trouble with this method is that the developers may have a different idea of how you will use the system than how you actually need to use the system.  That’s why it’s important that we all speak up about our needs!

What interface design quirks in your system have been missed by a cognitive walkthrough effort?  Share them in the comments!

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This post was edited by Intellogist Team member Kristin Whitman. The Intellogist blog is provided for free by Intellogist’s parent company, Landon IP, a major provider of patent search, technical translation, and information services.

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