All of that said though, every day I get people asking me ‘What is usability, and why should I care?‘. Today I’d like to talk about what usability is, and why it’s so important. I’d love to hear your views on it too, so please feel free to share your opinion in the comments below.
What is usability?
So, what is usability? There are a number of good definitions floating around, these are a couple of the ones that really hit the spot:
The state or condition of being usable; The degree to which an object, device, software application, etc. is easy to use with no specific training – Wiktionary
Usability refers to the ease with which a User Interface can be used by its intended audience to achieve defined goals. Usability incorporates many factors: design, functionality, structure, information architecture, and more – Sitepoint
Something easy to learn and easy to understand. Seems simple enough, right? But when you turn your mind to thinking of sites or products that truly meet this goal, how many can you think of? What examples come to mind?
Mac OS X is well known because ‘it just works’. The simple tasks you would want to achieve are very simple to achieve. The important information is easy to find. Things that say they will work with OS X just work.
Especially if you live inside the Apple ecosystem, everything behaves in a simple and logical way. No blue screens of death, no clippy, no ugly pop up warning bubbles. It just works.
Retail Me Not is a great website to help you save money on the internet. If you often come to sites that ask if you have a coupon code, then this site will save you money. They have coupon codes for tons of different sites, and the site is designed to make the process of using the coupon codes as simple as possible.
When you find a code you want to use (with the simple, straight forward search function), just click on it and it will be copied to your clipboard. If it’s a referral link it will open up in your browser for you. You can see which codes are working at a glance, and share your own experience with the community. A great way to save money.
Kiwibank is a bit different from regular banking sites. The navigation structure is surprisingly clear and easy to use, and for what should be a content heavy site, none of the pages slap you in the face with too much content.
The important things are easy to find and easy to understand, and you are never more than a couple of layers from the content you are looking for.
They also developed their site without flash (which seems to appear awfully often on banking sites) so it’s extremely accessible as well.
Some more examples:
Another great site that shows examples of UIs that have had a bit more thought than most is Little Big Details. They have a whole range of examples showing how little details make a big difference to the user experience. Well worth a look.
Why is usability so important?
- It gives users a better experience: The more your users enjoy your site, the more likely they are to return, the more likely they are to recommend it to others, and the better your site or product will do in the long run.
- It helps you stand out from the competition: Why did the iPod sell so well? It was simple, did what users needed it to do, and not a lot more. It was an extremely usable product in a market where people used to think cramming devices with a million and one different features that barely worked at all was the way to succeed.
- It’s what most people want: Well there are a few people who actually like things to be complex and customise things in a million different ways, the mass market wants things that are simple, straight forward and just work.
- It means people can spend more time doing, and less time learning: The more usable the interface, the more time people can spend enjoying themselves, making purchases, interacting with your site and achieving goals that are important to you.
- You spend less time, money and effort on support: If your site or product is simple and straightforward to use it will require far less support, saving you time, money and energy.
Of course, there is more to usability than this, but these are some really fundamental points about why usability is so important. Regardless of what industry you are in, regardless of the sites or products that you build, good usability will make a big difference.
So, you’ve seen some examples of what usability is to me and why I think it’s important, and now I’d like to see what usability is to you.
What are your examples of great sites? What products come to mind for you? Or are there any sites or products you can think of that are fail on the usability front?
We’d love to do a usability review of some outstanding sites so people know what is working, and why it works so well, as well as sites that could use some improvement to improve their usability. Be sure to let us know in the comments below.
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And don’t forget to share your comments on sites you love and hate in the comments below. Thanks for dropping by!