Introduction to usability

Introduction to usability

Usability: The extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use. [ISO 9241-11]. 
Or in common language; is the user able to use the product?

Usability is not an option

Customers that return a product because they think it’s broken – while it’s not. Well-trained medical professionals that cause injuries because devices supposed to support them confuse them instead. Smart phones that require smart people to receive training to be able to use them. A copier that can make complete booklets – if only users could find out how.

Usability is about whether your customers can get out of a product what you’ve put into it. And making products easy to use is not optional in an age in which consumers are demanding high quality products while electronic products have effectively turned into complex, networked systems, and have to be used by user groups worldwide, each with their own needs and preferences.

Usability in numbers

So how big of a problem are we talking about? In a quarter of European homes, only one person knows how to operate the remote control[1]. Half of the Britons indicated to have stopped using a product because it was too hard to use[2]. In the US, half of the electronic consumer products are returned because customers indicate they ‘do not work as expected’, at a cost of about $6.8 billion in 2007 for the manufacturers[3]. Is there any good news? Yes. Dutch Telecom provider KPN decreased help desk calls by 30%, and thus cut costs, by redesigning its ADSL do-it-yourself installation kit.

Creating usable products

Usable products don’t just happen, they have to be designed. But how do you create usable products in an environment that competes fiercely on costs and time to market, and if the different parts of the system are owned by different parties? In order to provide designers and product developers with practice-oriented knowledge, tools and methods that enable product development companies to deliver usable products, three Dutch technical universities worked on the ‘Design for Usability’ research project from 2007-2012.

  1. Survey by GfK for Logitech in 2008
  2. Survey conducted by British Telecom IT support in 2008
  3. Study by Accenture in 2007: “Big trouble with no trouble found.”