Thursday, 28 April 2011

User-centred design: how good is your usability?

If you are working across industry sectors, this question of usability can get complex. There are, of course, some basics that prove valuable for general usability of iMedia sites and we won't repeat those here. Jakob Nielsen's Useit website has an established reputation because of his long involvement in the area and it's a good place to start if you want a comprehensive updated overview.

If you haven't visited his site for a while you'll notice that the usability research area has become divided by business sectors and age groups. Those are telling in that usability guidelines have found variances according to the function and profile of use for the interactive user, be it for web, mobile, or smart phone device.

An increase in usability means more satisfied customers ... means better return from the exchange whether that is monetary or affinity to the brand/information. The increase in awareness of the importance of usability has led to a proliferation of Usability jobs. If you're after a usability job or need pointers for advertising for a usability professional, you can browse various sites and we nominate Total Jobs as another indicator here.

If you're involved in producing UK government related web sites, they have issued new usability guidelines in the past week so you may need to check your offerings to this sector to make sure you'll conform for the future and/or revise your current offerings accordingly. Take a look at the COI for the latest where they cover page layout, navigation, writing content, content elements, forms, search, QA and standards and common pages.

If you're involved with e-commerce sites then there's a timely article on econsultancy's site by Paul Rouke with an eye-catching title, WTF does usability best practice mean?, 27th April 2011. Do take a quick look at the Lakeland research that he notes written up by Graham Charlton 7th April 2011, Ten Best Practices from the New Lakeland website. There you'll see examples from their revised site in action with apposite analysis.

It's been a while coming but the sites influenced by Location-based services have a strong following that is growing because they make good sense to any user. Just think of trying to live without the train arrival and departure board information on your smart phone if you regularly use trains, or sat-nav in your car. What about Google Earth/Street maps/view and their spin-off apps? Social media shared information can lead to business opportunities for local businesses when they may least expect it. Lots of people didn't know where Carlilse/Cumbria is even though they'd bought tickets for an event there online. The anonymous blogger realised that many would be looking for accommodation nearby as well as other services and that if the local businesses hadn't placed a Google map app on their sites they would lose business. See: Location-based- marketing will find its feet this Summer. 20th April 2011

If you are working on smart phone apps then you'll also need to keep up with usability issues specifically related to their use: see Where News Apps Come Out On Top in Ground-breaking App Usability Study, 15th April 2011.

This is why usability experts are in more demand than ever. Do you have some? Do you have an alliance with a specialist company or two? Are you costing usability into your project budget breakdowns and if so how? Usability research methods vary a lot and their costs vary in tandem. Not an easy subject but usability methods will have to wait for another time.

1 comment:

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