Working in the UX field I’m constantly looking at my environment and the world around me and questioning just how usable things are. Recently, I started to think about the concept of just what makes something usable. If something works, does that automatically make it usable?
I’ve always believed that for something to be usable, it should be easy to use and free of frustration with little to no instruction needed. It should be effortless, right? But something that seems effortless to me might not be effortless to others and vice versa. This is one of the main challenges faced by designers: how do they know if the product or experience they are designing is a usable one?
Take the dishwasher at my office for instance. I find it very easy to use: simply put in the detergent packet, close the door, turn the knob and voila I’m done. But for every person that can easily use the machine there are people that seem to have trouble with it. Something that seems simple and usable to me makes others scratch their heads in frustration. What led to this differing experience with this machine?
When a user has a poor experience they tend to blame themselves thinking they are doing something wrong. Is it their fault? Is it the designer’s fault? Is it even possible for a designer to create a product or an experience that can work universally across all users? In the end, the blame lies in the hands of the designers. The designers of this dishwasher focused more on how the dishwasher should work, rather than how it was going to be used. This is where the break between something working over something being usable happens.
At Delvinia, we engage in usability testing and concept validation to ensure the experiences we’re creating with our clients are not only strategic for the brand, but user friendly and engaging. Our proprietary AskingCanadians online research community also enables us to validate strategies and test prototypes with Canadians.
For one of our retail clients I recently conducted an in-person usability test on our proposed enhancement and redesign of their online store. We added a number of dynamic functions such as an update to their product display, a new global shopping cart, real time product suggestions and purchasing bundle recommendations, and other additions to improve the shopping experience.
By validating our proposed design through user testing, we were able to ensure that the new design not only functionally worked but was usable by shoppers coming to the site in a real world situation. Any unforeseen flaws or roadblocks that could prevent a good user experience were spotted by the testers and adjusted for the final design.
Every user is a unique user and as a result their experiences with your product will also be unique. The best way to ensure that your design not only works, but is usable, is to validate it with real users.