Usability: What It Means and How to Get There

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Usability: What It Means and How to Get There

Usability is the buzzword in the world of UX design. Some understand it as a simple, user-friendly interface, while others focus on its engaging potential. Most experts underline that a usable design is user-centric. However, all these characteristics are pretty fuzzy, giving no concrete steps for usability evaluation or improvements.

Here is a set of tips from professional UI/UX design agency experts to help you refine the usability focus and understand concrete steps for its improvement.

Defining Usability Correctly

Usability is traditionally associated with the 5 E’s, which are:

  • Effectiveness. Your product is considered effective if users can complete their goals and do it correctly with the help of its functionality.
  • Efficiency. Efficiency means the degree of accuracy and the speed of user goal completion with the help of your digital product.
  • Ease of use/learning. While ease of use is a broad term associated with usability overall, ease of learning is a more concrete usability characteristic. It is measured by the time required for a specific user to master the product’s navigation to complete a specific task. The quicker the onboarding process, the higher the product’s usability.
  • Engaging interface. The product’s UI is qualified as engaging if users are satisfied by using it and find it pleasant. This characteristic is achieved with successful visual design.
  • Error tolerance. No digital product is ideal, so it may have some flaws and navigation glitches. These issues can become a real problem in products with low error tolerance, which prevents the product’s effective use and cause user confusion. An error-tolerant system is resilient to such minor problems, helping users quickly recover from errors and complete their goals by undoing the wrong actions.

How to Design for Usability?

With these characteristics in mind, you might have a clearer idea of what your digital product should be like to be considered usable. Here are a couple more tips to get there:

  • Always focus on the user’s perspective when designing web products. What are the user’s goals? Let the user needs inform your design, and you will achieve a proper match.
  • Your design process and post-launch efforts should be focused on consistent usability evaluation. Watch how people use your product to understand whether your design choices are optimal or require improvement. Usability goes far beyond the software’s acceptance, as the daily user experience may dilute with time, causing users to abandon your product for the sake of competitors.
  • Some businesses associate usability with the ease of product’s use, which is a pretty narrow focus. In reality, you need to achieve much more than easy product navigation. Error tolerance, engaging interface, and efficiency combined with effectiveness also play a great role in user satisfaction.

Steps for Designing a Usable System

Most businesses planning a digital product, be it an app or a website, consider usability the cornerstone of web design. The good news is that it’s totally achievable, especially if you take the right step-by-step approach to design a usable system.

#1 Discover Phase

First, you need to understand your users. Who are they? What do they want? What do they need or lack in the existing solutions? Thus, your initial list of findings to inform UX design should include:

  • Types of target users
  • User expectations regarding your web product
  • Primary tasks with which users will come to you
  • Usability goals

#2 Formulation of Specifications

Based on the findings from the discovery phase and the formulated usability goals for your product, you will be able to determine specific usability requirements. These requirements explain how the system should work from the user’s side and match the user’s goals. They should be clear and measurable so that the project progresses effectively.

#3 Solution Development

An ideal start of the development process is a brief, preliminary usability test with real target users. You should recruit at least 5-7 users from each identified user group and ask them to perform a set of tasks. This test will give you an initial usability evaluation, showing whether you target the right people with the right design. It will also highlight any functional problems your product design has, helping you tweak the design early at the start of the development process.
After the initial test, your design prototype is ready for implementation. It will serve as a set of guidelines for front-end designers who build the app’s interface and ensure its connectivity with the server side of the digital product.

#4 QA

Quality assurance and testing are vital preliminary steps before the product’s launch. You need to ensure that the solution works as it should, is safe and hack-proof, and can help users complete their primary tasks.

#5 Maintenance and Improvements

Now that the app has been launched, you should continue improving its usability throughout its existence. Collect user feedback, make design tweaks, and release updates – all these efforts will pay off with user tolerance and long-term product adoption.

How to Evaluate Your Resource’s Usability?

You should set usability milestones and evaluate your resource against those criteria to achieve sustainable user satisfaction and conversion rates. The most important issue at this point is to have concrete metrics for evaluation, which can guide you through the process and show where you currently are in it.

Here is an example of a usability evaluation plan, which you can adjust to your product’s specifics:

  • Efficiency – all new users can successfully complete the tasks with which they came to the resource within less than 2 minutes
  • Effectiveness – at least 96% of registrations and newsletter signups should be correctly completed, with the rest covered by support staff in under 5 minutes
  • Engaging interface – less than 10% of users voice discomfort or dissatisfaction with particular interface elements
  • Error tolerance – the app’s interface allows double-checking the order and adjusting items before producing the payment
  • Ease of learning – less than 5% of users experience trouble with completing the financial transactions in the app, requiring external support or guidance

Usability Is a Continuous Process

Don’t try to achieve a high level of usability once and for all. It’s a process rather than an outcome, and you should work on user-centered design iteratively to improve the user experience every day. The 5E usability evaluation framework offers valuable guidelines for data collection from users, design adjustments, and the final evaluation. Thus, you will always know at what point of usability improvements you are, being able to spot the problems and make corrections on time.

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