Usability is a word that is often heard, yet is not often understood. What is usability? Why spend so much time on usability? How is it measured? When done right, usability can increase user productivity, provide a higher retention of information, and raise user satisfaction by creating and providing a stronger experience. Understanding what makes something usable or intuitive is never clearly defined. There are many factors that should go into the design of a usable solution. Usability is a component of user centered design, and is based on the goals, objectives, and even the limitations of you and your audience. Usability can be broken down into six elements that overlap each other to provide one cohesive experience. These six elemental groups are defined as: goal solving, intuitive, efficient, functional, satisfying, and memorable.

1. Goal Solving
Solving the overall goal to fulfill the needs of you and your audience is the most important of the six elements. At the end of the solution’s use, the audience should have fulfilled their need to use the solution.

2. Intuitive
Upon seeing the solution for the first time, the audience should feel familiar with how to navigate and use the solution based on their past experiences and instincts.

3. Efficient
The audience should be able to navigate and use the solution quickly and in a straight forward manner. Their experience should be productive, not time wasting.

4. Functional
The solution should work correctly and in the same way each time the audience uses it.

5. Satisfying
The audience should enjoy the use of the solution.

6. Memorable
The solution should allow the audience to retain both their experience and information presented to them.

Knowing Your User
How do you know who the audience, or users are? How do you know what they like or don’t like? How do you know, for example, that they only have a few hours to do online assignment in the evening? How do you know they prefer a CD-ROM over the web? How do you know they will even have access to a mouse or keyboard? The short answer is to ask them. Work with them to provide a better end product. Talk with them, create a survey, develop a focus group… There are many ways to learn about the user. If there are three main groups of users that are going to use the solution, develop three personas that can be used to think through the six usability groups. Personas are fictitious audience groups that represent the different users. Become a user and understand why they will use and enjoy their experience. We will cover the many questions that can be asked of the user base in a more specific article, but here are five starter questions to ask yourself (and your users) when defining a usable solution:

  1. What are the computer habits of my different audiences?
  2. What function does this application have for my audience?
  3. What input devices will my audience have to use?
  4. What metrics help define that the end product is a success?
  5. Less is more. What can be removed or integrated to provide a clearer focus on the main goal?

Testing and Measuring Results
Like anything, test and measure your results. When you are in the middle of, or complete the project don’t just put it on the shelf. Watch your users use it, ask more questions, and make adjustments. Understand how the time spent benefits your users, how it also saves time, aggravation, and of course, saves or makes money.

Users enjoy solutions they feel a connection with. Spend the time to know the user, get creative, and produce a solution with an experience that will be remembered.