What is Usability

In a nutshell, usability means working out how to create something the average person can use without frustration.

People thinking and looking at a laptopThere are three main methods that help you make something more usable

  1. Ask people how they would like something to work, then prioritising what they suggest and including some/all of those features in the finished product
  2. Watch people interact with something, like a website or some software, and making a note of any problems that arise and working out how to solve those problems
  3. “Develop an eye” for what tends to work and what goes wrong and bearing this in mind when developing something new, or enhancing something that already exists.

Usability professionals also use some other terms:

  1. User Experience – this means looking at what it feels like to use something, is it satisfying or frustrating, can it be used confidently or hesitantly etc
  2. Information Architecture – this means how to organise information, for example categorisation and sub-categorisation, and how that information is accessed, for example menu bars on a website
  3. Wireframing – creating basic sketches  a user interface showing the layout of websites and software showing how the system is going to work.
  4. User Testing – Asking participants to have a go at doing some scenarios with something and watching where problems arise for the participant
  5. Heuristic Evaluation – A review from standard checklists to identify what is good and bad about the system, usually done by experienced people with a lot of usability knowledge.

If you want to read some more about usability, wikipedia’s usability pages are a good starting point.