It Looks Great . . . But Can You Use It?
This week’s featured image is courtesy of Peter Morville’s excellent blog.
Usability.gov is a great website. Anybody who is interested in mobile development or visualization should be concerned with usability, and I’m sure that most people who do this stuff for a living are up-to-date on the latest trends and the best advice. But for someone who works in that odd space between technology and customer outreach, between the areas of technical documentation and end-user documentation, it is an interesting topic.
There are many different kinds of usability, and they span various projects, industries, and attempts at communication. A usable mobile interface is different than a usable webpage, and those are both different from a usable manual.
The Usability Blog is a great commercial website that hosts a lot of interesting content on usability, including this recent post that I found particularly, well, useful.
From the very end:
Your usability approach must be flexible and ingrained in the project goals to achieve this. You need to consider not just the usability of the rendered page, but the usability of the rendered link, the availability of key product features (if it is not available the feature is not usable), and the ability of the team to implement the design within project constraints. Usability decisions are engineering decisions and engineering decisions are usability decisions.
The whole article is written as a response to an earlier discussion (some would say ‘argument,’ but not me, because frankly I don’t know that much about it) regarding the way we implement usability standards. But the way Brad Cranford, the author of the piece, attaches the standards of engineering and usability together provides a great piece of wisdom that, when we think about it, should make perfect sense.
Taking mobile app development as an example, there is no real way to talk about usability standards without talking about their underlying engineering. Mobile devices throw this truth into sharp relief because, as we all know, so much of mobile development is conducted by building a tool, app, or platform around the limitations of the mobile device itself. For as much as we all love our tablets and smartphones, we live in a world of big screens. Monitor sizes are huge, and TVs keep getting bigger.
So it seems likely there will always be some kind of antagonism, some kind of push and pull, between large and small screens. This has implications for a mobile application developer because very often nowadays, mobile users want to put their small screen display onto something larger. Think Chromecast or Apple TV.
So perhaps that is the next great argument in usability? What happens when the concern is no longer one of getting a lot of information onto a smaller screen, but instead becomes one of getting that smaller screen to look good when it is turned into a larger one? Not being a usability expert, I can profess total ignorance here. For all I know, this is already a problem being worked on. If so, I can look forward to reading some more blog posts about it. But if not, it presents some interesting conundrums on the way we are going to to use our screen time.
What is your biggest concern about usability?