I have to agree with the folks that usability studies are definitely essential in today's day of products laden with software code. Trying to get fancy or creative for the sake of being creative isn't going to resonate with users who are looking to do things quickly and who are often doing whatever they're doing on a cell/smart phone while they're doing something else. If you have to work it too much, it's just low utility.
Sometimes I would be happy to go back to the days when I didn't know the phone number of the person calling (Caller's ID), or had to reachable 24/7 (cell phone, email on my cell phone, text on my cell phone, etc.). I can hear the boos, lol. Cell phones like the many other products and systems with user interfaces (UI), can have you saying "who in the world design this thing????". Sometimes I don't think the design companies actually have design requirements or even take the consumers into consideration. Some UIs I have found to be easy while others haven't been the opposite. Just when you have your cell phone all figured out it is time for a new one and I have yet to have a new phone that allows me to navigate the same way as the last one.
I believe designing a user interface has to be extremely hard... guess you can't please everyone.
Nancy, usability studies are really the way to go, and even better, if you can film the usability study for later review. It's really key to see the non-verbal responses when users attempt to complete a task. The way that they may hesitate, start to press the wrong button, or seem flustered.
William, you're right, Engineers are not normal people and Software Engineers, even less so (judging myself and close friends). The first test I always perform is to have my wife attempt to navigate the interface. She will always use the interface in a way that surprised me. When possible, I like to have the user capable of achieving the same task in multiple ways so that everything they do is right, instead of everything they do being wrong. After all frustration is defined as "blockage to a goal".
The reason that some kids are able to pick up on some systems so quickly is that they have nothing in memory to point to intuitive actions. intuition and experience are detrimental to learning a system that is designed to be different. Think about the problems that you would have driving if you needed to turn the wheel clockwise to turn left. But a child with no experience at all in a car would not have that problem.
So the real source of the difficulties is the software, which is mostly written by programmers, and we all are quite aware that programmers are not normal people. That is not a criticism, it is just a fact. They think differently than I do, that is very clear, and they think differently than most people. And like the other postings assert, the systems designers are too close to see what is counter intuitive.
So because software is the part that causes the most problems, one suggestion is to reduce the amount of software.
Usability studies are a great way to determine if a product will be easy to navigate. I believe it is very important to go through this process. The designer is way too close to the product to be able to determine if it is going to be easy to use. Whenever I develop a web site – I always send the link to a variety of people with a list of questions for them to answer so that I can determine if they are having a positive or a frustrating experience with it and why...
One thing I see a lot is someone trying to be creative so they rearrange things on their web site. What they are often doing in reality is shooting themselves in the foot – people want to navigate quickly and if the shopping cart is in the center of the page when 99% of other web pages have it on the upper right – the user will not be impressed, they will be frustrated looking for it. I think this applies to any interface...
Good point, Chuck. For some reason, these operating systems are very easy for kids to pickup. There are tons of stories about kids learning how to use an iPad or a smartphone before they are able to walk.
You're probably aware of the theory that Millennials (those born after the proliferation of PCs) adapt to technology much faster than we do in part because their brains work differently after years of exposure to digital technology.
Having spent 10 years in cellular product development during the exponential advance decade (1997-2007) I can tell you that the 3 main engineering disciplines (EE/ME/SW) really played leap-frog regarding discipline-specific advancements.Early cellular in mid 1990's, the breakthroughs were in EE as the chipsets grew smaller and more powerful.ME and SW lagged behind. Circa 2002, ME made many advancements with color displays, unique ID's and folding hinge configurations (sliders, flips, bi-folds); EE had multiple protocols and was stable and cruising; yet SW was still kludgy and still lagging. Finally the iPhone era arrived around 2005 and SW was the new king of disciplines for telecom engineers.
Because of the leap-frogging and un-equal yoking of the technology curves across these three disciplines, the marketeers were always hawking the latest advancement to drive sales, but the total product was almost always as awkward as a clumsy adolescent. I suspect its about at this point in the timeline that Jon Titus's phone was designed.
Today, I think all three engineering disciplines have a common maturity, as well as commonality across the big OEM's (RIM, HTC, NOK, MOT, Samsung, etc). Most new models are pretty stable, and many "expected" features are becoming common, if not already governed as a "standard".
But this fact is also causing the telecom industry to become so commoditized that the engineering activities are no longer fun.Its now so cut-throat and always racing to production with huge volumes and low margins. Invention is on the decline. But that should bode well for the end-users debating ease-of-use in this discussion. I guess when engineering gets boring, its better for the mass user public.
Rob: When you use this stuff all day long, as kids tend to, I suppose it seems obvious. But those of us who don't carry smartphones everywhere are going to have some problems catching up. Cadillac's CUE is based on smartphone interfaces and Toyota is working on an automotive interface with Microsoft and Intel. I think I can take a pretty good guess as to what those interfaces will look like.
When we have Bluetooth communications enabled on our Samsung phones, the Bluetooth logo obscures the digital-time display. It took a while to figure out how to disable Bluetooth and get rid of the logo, but doing so caused the digital time to disappear, too. Go figure.
I understand what you mean about the Android OS, Ttemple. My teenage daughter has a smartphone with Android. While I don't need the full functionality of a smartphone, it's important to her and she's willing to pay for it out of the funds she earns tutoring. The all-touch screen keyboard is much easier to use than a button keyboard. It has 4G and runs like a speedboat.
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