Friday, May 05, 2006

Back to the Drawing Board for Usability

Simple usability techniques...

"Usability techniques don't have to be complicated. In fact, some of the most effective ones are the simplest, and involve little more than pencil and paper. Here are just a few

In these days of jealously guarded boundaries, it's a brave profession which calls a spade a spade. It's even braver to offer a spade when others are offering the latest titanium-tipped excavation solution — but when a usability consultant suggests you apply some paper-and-pencil techniques to your product development cycle, you can be sure there are only two items of equipment they'll need: a notepad and a pencil.

Paper-and-pencil techniques have a distinguished place in the usability toolkit. They exemplify the drive for simplicity over complexity, they're quick and cheap, and, used thoughtfully, they're extremely effective. That's not to say non-usability people can't use them: on the contrary, they're also easy to learn and apply.

Paper and pencil prototyping
The best kind of usability analysis starts as soon as the concept for a new product has taken shape. Long before there's any kind of hardware or interface, try sketching out a model of the final product: what it will look like, how it will work, which items need to appear on the top screen or control panel, what sort of size the buttons need to be. Then, test that. Show your sketch to the people around you and ask them which button they would press or click to achieve a particular goal. Draw sequences of screens or status sketches to help users walk through an operation. Ask them what they like and don't like. Tear up the bad bits and draw new ones as they speak. Is that better?

It may sound fatuous, but paper-based prototyping is an immensely powerful way of refining the underlying concept of a product, so that subsequent designs meet real needs and enable real productivity far more effectively. Jakob Nielsen estimates that measured usability can increase by an order of magnitude following even minor alterations to a product's basic approach to a problem. Amendments to the proposed feature set and user interface architecture, before there's any physical design to work with, can save a fortune in later redesign. And while usability insights at any stage are never wasted, they can never have the same impact of fundamental changes early in the design."   continued ...   (Via UK Builder)


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