User interface design: usability improves with clues

A user interface (UI) is the point where people interact with machines and devices.  In this case, I’m talking about the thing that you use to gain access to a secure building – my building, actually, at the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) in Herndon, Virginia across from Dulles Airport.

So, I get to my parking garage and there is this thing that you have to use to communicate with the guard who will decide if you get to come in or not.

As you can see, there is this fisheye lens staring at you, a speaker, and a shiny little button, which I suppose is not very obvious or intuitive that you are supposed to push to get a guard on the phone.  Apparently, they did not do usability testing prior to production and deployment of these boxes.  And, I guess, after they are installed at hundreds of thousands of entrances around the world, it gets pretty expensive to modify the device as an afterthought.  So, the management company figured out that if you simply put a sticky (3M yellow post-it note) on the device with instructions on how to use it, i.e., “Press Button for Service,” then the UI (User Interface) becomes a lot more intuitive and easy-to-use.

So here is the thing, you can either pay for proper Discovery in the beginning where you identify your target audience, put yourself into their mind set, walk through the process model, get some sample visitors, perform some early beta testing on your prototype, get good feedback, and build usability into the design or you can bypass Usability and Quality Assurance (QA) and rush to deploy your product and cross your fingers that you’ve thought of everything.

Fortunately, with the web, it is not quite as expensive to recall websites, to tweak and refine the UI after deployment, and perform beta testing while the website is still in beta mode.

But the points to be made here are:

  • Sometimes, all it takes is a call out or message label to help nudge people in the right direction
  • Usability sometimes means making the obvious more prominent and … obvious
  • It is important to identify your target audience early and do beta testing prior to launch
  • It is never too late to get feedback from your target audience to make post-launch improvements
  • Pay me now or pay me later, either way you need to do QA

Read more about:

  • A focus on web usability
  • Content development