Usability applies to everything we see, touch, or do

scratch head confusion usability

In web design and development, we have this concept called, “Usability,” which means that we strive to make our websites and user experiences (UX) more intuitive and obvious to our intended target audiences.  Once you become cognizant of usability, you start noticing it everywhere.

When I land in a new airport and rent an unfamiliar car, I begin to notice usability defects. Are the light switches where they are “supposed to be?”  Is the window wiper switch where it is supposed to me?  Is the reverse gear where it is supposed to be?  The emergency brake?

When I enter a building, does the door swing open in the “right direction?”  Is the button to the intercom where it should be? In the elevator, are the buttons where they are supposed to be? Is it obvious which button is for the floor that I seek, particularly the parking lot, the hotel lobby, and the exit?

When I am reading a contract to build a house, are things listed and organized where they are supposed to be? If I am looking for the section that lists my solar panels, are they in the right section?

Usability applies to everything we see, touch, read, or do.

Usability is particularly important when there is an emergency, an urgent need to do something, and when you are short on time and don’t have much time to think, figure things out, or analyze.

For example, when I land at a new airport in a new city and I have to rush from one terminal to another to catch a plane, it is obvious what direction should I run? When I drive out of the parking lot in that unfamiliar rental car and it is dark and suddenly rains, can I quickly find the headlights and wiper blades? If I park on an incline or decline, can I quickly put the vehicle into the right gear and find the parking brakes so it doesn’t roll down the hill?  If I land in a country where people drive on the “wrong side of the road,” is it obvious which lane I should be driving in?

Things need to be where they are supposed to be.  Things need to go and work in the right direction.  But, what is the right direction? Where are things supposed to be?  Where do things belong?

Generally speaking, people who are right-handed tend to have left-brain dominance, which is the part of the brain that is more logical, analytical, factual, attentive to detail, and objective.  These are the thinkers.  Left-handed people, on the other hand, tend to have right-brain dominance, which is the part of the brain that is typically associated with creativity, emotion, and intuitiveness. Left-handed (right-brained) people tend to be more artistic, innovative, and spontaneous.

Don’t make me think!

One of the best and most classical books on the topic of usability is, “Don’t Make Me Think,” by Steve Krug. Ideally, the user interface (UI) should be designed in such a way that you don’t have to think about placement, things are where they are supposed to be, and you can just use without thinking. Right-brain people are intuitive. Make things intuitive for them. Left-brain people are thinkers, right-brain people are not.  Don’t make right-brain people have to think. Preserve their thinking skills for the important stuff, like rocket surgery. Even the left-brain thinkers will thank you for that.

The following tips and techniques might help you organize things in a way that makes whatever you produce more intuitive, obvious, logical, and usable:

  • Call it what it is.  Don’t use fancy words to describe simple things.  Use plain, simple, elementary school language to describe or label the section or category.  If it is a duck, call it a duck, don’t call it a fowl.
  • There is an organizational mantra that goes something like … a place for every thing and every thing in its place.  Make sure that for every thing you have, that you manage, that you present to somebody has a place to be and it is in the right place.
  • Clump, organize, or group similar things together. There is this concept called the, “proximity principle,” which implies that related things should be placed together while unrelated things should be placed apart. Close proximity implies that things are similar, relevant, or connected. Things that are apart from each other implies they are dissimilar or disconnected.
  • In web design and development, we have this technique called, “card sorting,” that helps us figure out what something is and where it belongs and what is the name of the bucket or category that we should put relevant things.
  • On a website, if something looks clickable then it should be clickable.  Likewise, if it is clickable then it should look clickable.  A clickable link or button should look clickable. You shouldn’t have to guess if it is clickable or not.  Moreover, if it is not clickable, don’t make it look like a clickable link or button.

Hope this helps. If you need to talk to somebody about making your website more obvious, intuitive, or usable … give us a call, maybe we can help.