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Encyclopedia > Usability

Usability is a term used to denote the ease with which people can employ a particular tool or other human-made object in order to achieve a particular goal. Usability can also refer to the methods of measuring usability and the study of the principles behind an object's perceived efficiency or elegance. For other uses, see Tool (disambiguation). ...


In human-computer interaction and computer science, usability usually refers to the elegance and clarity with which the interaction with a computer program or a web site is designed. The term is also used often in the context of products like consumer electronics, or in the areas of communication, and knowledge transfer objects (such as a cookbook, a document or online help). It can also refer to the efficient design of mechanical objects such as a door handle or a hammer. Human–computer interaction (HCI) or, alternatively, computer–human interaction (symbolized as Χ χ Chi, the 22nd letter of the Greek alphabet) is the study of interaction between people (users) and computers. ... Computer science, or computing science, is the study of the theoretical foundations of information and computation and their implementation and application in computer systems. ... A computer program is a collection of instructions that describe a task, or set of tasks, to be carried out by a computer. ... A website, Web site or WWW site (often shortened to just site) is a collection of webpages, that is, HTML/XHTML documents accessible via HTTP on the Internet; all publicly accessible websites in existence comprise the World Wide Web. ... Consumer electronics is electronic equipment intended for use by everyday people. ... Look up Communication in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Knowledge transfer in the fields of Organizational development and organizational learning, is the practical problem of getting a packet of knowledge from one part of the organization to another (or all other) parts of the organization. ... A cookbook is a book that contains information on cooking, and a list of recipes. ... A document contains information. ... Online Help is topic, procedural or reference information delivered through computer software. ... Wind turbines The scientific definition of a machine is any device that transmits or modifies energy. ... A claw hammer For other uses, see Hammer (disambiguation). ...

Contents

Introduction

The primary notion of usability is that an object designed with the users' psychology and physiology in mind is, for example: Psychology is an academic or applied discipline involving the scientific study of mental processes such as perception, cognition, emotion, personality, behavior, and interpersonal relationships. ... Leonardo da Vincis Vitruvian Man, an important early achievement in the study of physiology. ...

  • More efficient to use—it takes less time to accomplish a particular task
  • Easier to learn—operation can be learned by observing the object
  • More satisfying to use

Complex computer systems are finding their way into everyday life, and at the same time the market is becoming saturated with competing brands. This has led to usability becoming more popular and widely recognised in recent years as companies see the benefits of researching and developing their products with user-oriented instead of technology-oriented methods. By understanding and researching the interaction between product and user, the usability expert can also provide insight that is unattainable by traditional company-oriented market research. For example, after observing and interviewing users, the usability expert may identify needed functionality or design flaws that were not anticipated. A brand is a customer experience represented by a collection of images and ideas; often, it refers to a symbol such as a name, logo, slogan, and design scheme. ... By the mid 20th century humans had achieved a mastery of technology sufficient to leave the surface of the Earth for the first time and explore space. ... Interaction is a kind of action that occurs as two or more objects have an effect upon one another. ... Market research is the process of systematic gathering, recording and analyzing of data about customers, competitors and the market. ...


In the user-centered design paradigm, the product is designed with its intended users in mind at all times. In the user-driven or participatory design paradigm, some of the users become actual or de facto members of the design team. It has been suggested that User Centered Design be merged into this article or section. ... Since the late 1960s, the word paradigm (IPA: ) has referred to a thought pattern in any scientific discipline or other epistemological context. ... De facto is a Latin expression that means in fact or in practice. It is commonly used as opposed to de jure (meaning by law) when referring to matters of law or governance or technique (such as standards), that are found in the common experience as created or developed without...


The term user friendly is often used as a synonym for usable, though it may also refer to accessibility. The use of terms user friendly and user friendliness should be avoided, as there are no widely accepted definitions for them, and they are thus often used without much substance. Accessibility is a general term used to describe the degree to which a system is usable by as many people as possible. ...


There is no consensus about the relation of the terms ergonomics (or human factors) and usability. Some think of usability as the software specialization of the larger topic of ergonomics. Others view these topics as tangential, with ergonomics focusing on physiological matters (e.g., turning a door handle) and usability focusing on psychological matters (e.g., recognising that this door can be opened by turning that handle). Ergonomics (from Greek ergon work and nomoi natural laws) is the study of designing objects to be better adapted to the shape of the human body and/or to correct the users posture. ... Human factors is an umbrella term for several areas of research that include human performance, technology, design, and human-computer interaction. ... Software, consisting of programs, enables a computer to perform specific tasks, as opposed to the physical components of the system (hardware). ...


Defining usability

Usability is often associated with the functionalities of the product (cf. ISO definition, below), in addition to being solely a characteristic of the user interface (cf. framework of system acceptability, also below, which separates usefulness into utility and usability). For example, an automobile lacking a reverse gear could be considered unusable according to the former view, and lacking in utility according to the latter view. The user interface is the part of a system exposed to users. ...


When evaluating user interfaces for usability, the definition can be as simple as "the perception of a target user of the effectiveness (fit for purpose) and efficiency (work or time required to use) of the Interface". Each component may be measured subjectively against criteria e.g. Principles of User Interface Design, to provide a metric, often expressed as a percentage.


It is important to distinguish between usability testing and usability engineering. Usability testing is the measurement of ease of use of a product or piece of software. In contrast, usability engineering (UE) is the research and design process that ensures a product with good usability. Usability testing is a means for measuring how well people can use some human-made object (such as a web page, a computer interface, a document, or a device) for its intended purpose, i. ... Usability engineering is a subset of human factors that is specific to computer science and is concerned with the question of how to design software that is easy to use. ...


Usability is an example of a non-functional requirement. As with other non-functional requirements, usability cannot be directly measured but must be quantified by means of indirect measures or attributes such as, for example, the number of reported problems with ease-of-use of a system. In systems engineering and requirements engineering, non-functional requirements are requirements which specify criteria that can be used to judge the operation of a system, rather than specific behaviors. ...


ISO standard

The document ISO 9126 (1991) Software Engineering Product Quality, issued by the International Organization for Standardization, defines usability as: The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is an international standard-setting body composed of representatives from national standards bodies. ...

A set of attributes that bear on the effort needed for use, and on the individual assessment of such use, by a stated or implied set of users.

The document ISO 9241-11 (1998) Guidance on Usability, also issued by the International Organization for Standardization, defines usability as: ISO 9241 is a standard for usability. ... The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is an international standard-setting body composed of representatives from national standards bodies. ...

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.

System acceptability

Usability consultant Jakob Nielsen and computer science professor Ben Shneiderman have written (separately) about a framework of system acceptability, where usability is a part of "usefulness" and is composed of: Jakob Nielsen (born 1957 in Copenhagen, Denmark) is a writer, speaker, and consultant on software and web-design usability. ... Ben Shneiderman (born August 21, 1947) is an American computer scientist. ...

  • Learnability (e.g. intuitive navigation)
  • Efficiency of use
  • Memorability
  • Few and noncatastrophic errors
  • Subjective satisfaction

Usability considerations

Usability includes considerations such as:

  • Who are the users, what do they know, and what can they learn?
  • What do users want or need to do?
  • What is the general background of the users?
  • What is the context in which the user is working?
  • What has to be left to the machine? What to the user?


Answers to these can be obtained by conducting user and task analysis at the start of the project.


Other considerations

  • Can users easily accomplish their intended tasks? For example, can users accomplish intended tasks at their intended speed?
  • How much training do users need?
  • What documentation or other supporting materials are available to help the user? Can users find the solutions they seek in these materials?
  • What and how many errors do users make when interacting with the product?
  • Can the user recover from errors? What do users have to do to recover from errors? Does the product help users recover from errors? For example, does software present comprehensible, informative, non-threatening error messages?
  • Are there provisions for meeting the special needs of users with disabilities? (accessibility)

Examples of ways to find answers to these and other questions are: user-focused requirements analysis, building user profiles, and usability testing. This page is a candidate for speedy deletion. ... Accessibility is a general term used to describe the degree to which a system is usable by as many people as possible. ... Usability testing is a means for measuring how well people can use some human-made object (such as a web page, a computer interface, a document, or a device) for its intended purpose, i. ...


Conclusion

Usability is now recognized as an important software quality attribute, earning its place among more traditional attributes such as performance and robustness. Indeed, various academic programs focus on usability. [1] Also several usability consultancy companies have emerged, and traditional consultancy and design firms are offering similar services.


See also

Experience design is an approach to the design of products, services and environments based on a holistic consideration of the users experience. ... Human factors is an umbrella term for several areas of research that include human performance, technology, design, and human-computer interaction. ... This article or section does not adequately cite its references or sources. ... This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ... Internationalization and localization are means of adapting products such as publications or software for non-native environments, especially other nations and cultures. ... // Introduction Universal usability refers to the design of information and communications products and services that are usable for every citizen. ... Usability testing is a means for measuring how well people can use some human-made object (such as a web page, a computer interface, a document, or a device) for its intended purpose, i. ... Web usability is the application of usability in those domains where web browsing can be considered as a general paradigm (or metaphor) for constructing a GUI. // General Web usability is a general approach: it is as much about the effectiveness of transferring information via the Internet, as it is about... Gemba is Japanese term meaning the place where the truth can be found. ...

References

  • Norman, Donald A. (2002). The Design of Everyday Things. Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-06710-7. 
  • Jakob Nielsen (1994), Usability Engineering, Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, ISBN 0-12-518406-9
  • Ben Shneiderman: Software Psychology, 1980, ISBN 0-87626-816-5
  • Andreas Holzinger: Usability Engineering for Software Developers, Communications of the ACM (ISSN 0001-0782), Vol. 48, Issue 1 (January 2005), 71-74

Jakob Nielsen (born 1957 in Copenhagen, Denmark) is a writer, speaker, and consultant on software and web-design usability. ... Ben Shneiderman (born August 21, 1947) is an American computer scientist. ...

External links

See also external links for Web usability. Web usability is the application of usability in those domains where web browsing can be considered as a general paradigm (or metaphor) for constructing a GUI. // General Web usability is a general approach: it is as much about the effectiveness of transferring information via the Internet, as it is about...


General articles

Professional associations

Research and peer-reviewed journals

Design critiques

References

  • Interaction-Design.org — an open-content encyclopedia about usability
  • Usability.gov

Lists of Links

  • EServer TC Library: Usability
  • Usability Views — collectes links to articles and news related to usability
  • Suggest Usability: A blog on Suggesting usability of websites & applications

  Results from FactBites:
 
Usability 101: Fundamentals and Definition - What, Why, How (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox) (1147 words)
Usability is a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use.
Usability and utility are equally important: It matters little that something is easy if it's not what you want.
To identify a design's most important usability problems, testing five users is typically enough.
Encyclopedia4U - Usability engineering - Encyclopedia Article (163 words)
Usability engineering is a field of computer science concerned with the question of how to design software that is easy to use.
Among the leading proponents of this field of study are Donald Norman and Jakob Nielsen.
The subject is considered of sufficient importance that a number of universities include a usability engineering course as part of the computer science curriculum.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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