Usability • 6 Essential Questions

To understand usability better, let us ask the six essential questions - Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How

What?: What is usability?
In other words, asking the question "What is usability" is like asking for the definition of usability.
Usability is a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use. The word "usability" also refers to methods for improving ease-of-use during the design process [1]
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 [2]
Usability is a qualitative attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use. The word "usability" also refers to methods for improving ease-of-use during the design process [3]
Usability has different definitions which are valid in their diffferent contexts, but all the definitions circle around the word usable. In webdesign, making websites usable is almost always analogous to helping the users avoid banging their heads on the monitor and/or the desk when they surf your website.

Who?: Who needs usability?
One of the early stages in any software engineering lifecycle is user analysis or, in simple words, the "who is this for?" analysis. It is very important to know your end users while developing a system. The target audience defines the whole look, feel and interaction of a system. In particular, if we talk about websites, there could be a number of types of users for a website. Take CNN news for example, the user base is huge, people from all over the world use the website and while designing the site, CNN has to address the needs of most, if not all of its users. Another example is Yahoo! Kids which is intended for use by, well, kids of course. There is a lot of difference in the look in terms of the colors used, the layout, the fonts and the content. So, in order to build more effective, more usable websites, you have to know your users.

Why?: Why is usability important?
Usability is really important in todays competitve world. If a website is not usable, users will not visit it! Many websites are difficult to use, dont work properly and are not attractive to look at! By following a usability engineering approach while designing a websites, users' experience improves significantly. One of the top rules of any design should be not to tax users for visiting their website. Realistically speaking, more number of user visits = more business, more work and more moolah! If a website is poorly designed, there will be more complaints, phone calls and dissatisfied users.

How?: How do you improve usability?
There are several ways of applying usability concepts to websites. A useful part of usability is user testingm which involves creating test scenarios and having real users test the website. Testing unearths potential website flaws which can be corrected before the website goes online, this saves a lot of rework later. Maintenance costs go down, which is one of the main areas where a business spends time, money and effort. Other parts of usability are heuristic evaluations, requirements analysis and user profiling.

When?: When do you work on usability?
According to Jakob Nielsen "the guru of Web page usability", usability plays a role in each stage of the design process. Applying usability concepts at every stage of the development lifecycle helps a lot! The best way to get a high quality user experience is to start applying the usability concepts early in the process and to apply these concepts in each stage.

Where?: Where do i conduct usability?
This is a tricky question, a better question to ask would be: "Where would i conduct a usability test?". Usability tests are part of Usability Engineering. Usability testing is a technique used to evaluate a product by testing it on users. A usability test on a website can determine so much more about a website that the developers/designers can ever think of! It uncovers the most common mistakes a real user would make while interacting with the website, as opposed to those uncovered during a heuristic evaluation. Back to our question, "where do i conduct a usability test?". If you conduct tests on a regular basis on several websites, then its worth investing in a dedicated usability laboratory, this doesn't mean that you cannot conduct your tests in a typical office room, but what matters is that you have the right setup for a professional usability test which help avoid errors and gives you better results.

  1. Usability 101: Introduction to Usability http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20030825.php
  2. Sitepoint Glossary http://www.sitepoint.com/glossary.php?q=U
  3. Wikipedia - Usability http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usability#Definition