Unless a product, service, or system is usable, people will get frustrated and will abandon it. Usability is a factor for screen-based outcomes like smartphone apps. If too many options are hidden behind “hamburger” menus or fancy icons, an app can be hard to use and just frustrate users. The same goes for physical interactions. Phablets are hard to hold onto. Ordering custom burritos at a restaurant that requires patrons to visit five different condiment kiosks can be annoying. Ease of use… or at least, intuitive usability facilitates experiences that feel in line with the design outcome’s primary function.

Some design outcomes are more usable than others just because of the way they are designed. Think about websites: when booking a flight, a person using the site has to select and input a lot of information. Destination, dates, times, prices, seat options, personal information… a lot of steps go into booking a flight. Booking a flight can go wrong in many ways.

Nielsen’s Heuristics: 10 Rules to Better Usability demonstrates concerns designers face when designing usable outcomes.

Notice how these rules were all geared toward helping users as they use the design? Each heuristic endeavors to help empower users instead of becoming frustrating. The more usable the product, service, or system, the less likely people are to bail on it out of frustration. Usability has a significant impact on people’s experience with a design outcome.

Researching Usability

When designers research usability, they seek to measure how well people can operate a design. Usability is most often researched through product testing. Discoveries gained from testing outcomes can reveal “pain points”—areas where design revisions are needed.

Questions to Ask

  • How intuitive is the product/service/system and its features?
  • What kind of people feel this outcome is usable and who feels it is not?
  • At what level is the outcome usable?

Look For…

  • Features or processes that frustrate people
  • Features or processes that people use “without having to think”
  • How “invisible” (intuitive) the design outcome feels to people when they use it
  • How much aptitude is required to use it
  • How well it integrates established use conventions



Updated: June 19, 2024 6:43 am
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