What Is Usability?

Usability seems to be the most important part in web development process

Usability – when applied to software or websites – measures how easy it is for a completely new person to grasp the interface of a particular software product or website and figure out which interface element is responsible for which function and how to achieve one goal or another. As Wikipedia puts it “In human-computer interaction and computer science, usability often refers to the elegance and clarity with which the interaction with a computer program or a web site is designed.”

Yes, these are the main points: elegance and clarity. Good usability means the user should be able to learn to use the new piece of software at a glance and figure out how to accomplish the majority of tasks – including sophisticated ones – intuitively and without any training. Bad usability means that the user will have to receive special training to complete even basic tasks.

Designing software and websites with usability in mind can be more expensive than designing without usability. Best practices recommend usability tests involving teams of testers – users unacquainted with the product, who are given tasks and do their best to achieve their goals using the software. For effective usability studies their actions must be thoroughly recorded and later analysed, because it’s the only way to find out how intuitive the interface is. People are different, and what seems usable to one (especially the developer or the project manager) may be overwhelming to the other, that’s why it’s so important to invite several testers – ideally, representing different age and gender groups.

Generally, and especially for our purpose, the testers should be “target users” and in case of bespoke software end (business) users.
In practice we, and many other companies do not record user actions for later analysis (too time-consuming). Just watching real people performing tasks can help us figure out most of usability glitches.

All this can come at a cost, but it pays long term. Usable, intuitive software will save hundreds of working hours, which your personnel will be spending working on their tasks rather than thinking how to do it. It will save a lot of money also – the money you would otherwise have to spend on training your staff. So, if you calculate your ROI, you will see that investments in usability work well for your business.

Apart from being easy to learn, good, usable interfaces should be easy to remember, provide the fastest ways to accomplish the task, ensure that the user makes as few errors as possible – and even that the user enjoys working with it. If these requirements are not met, further usability improvements are necessary.

We have already shown that if you are ordering an application from a software development company, whether standalone or web-based application, it makes sense to invest in user-friendly design from the start because it will pay afterwards. But what about software development companies themselves? If they are developing a product they hope to sell, should they invest in usability?

The answer is yes, absolutely. The problem is. people tend to avoid using software which they find difficult to use, or just don’t like. So if your software is designed without any usability in mind, you’ll find it hard to sell it – people will buy from your competitor, even if your software provides more functionality. So, if you are aiming at selling your application, usability becomes an absolute must!

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