Friday, April 20, 2007

Usability vs Discoverability

The distinction between usability and discoverability ...

"I got into another spirited debate discussion on IRC today, this time about application usability and discoverability. We were talking about books and someone mentioned Don’t Make Me Think. I accidentally started the brouhaha by saying that it was a decent book, but that I disagreed with its core point of view. Wow, was that a bad idea.

But, I think I have some valid points to make, and what better place to rant than my own blog, right?

For a while now, there has been a rallying cry of “usability” for the web. It may seem like this is a Web2.0 thing, but it’s been around since at least Web1.5 (CSS) and maybe even longer. My argument was and is this: there is a very important distinction between “usability” and “discoverability”, and secondarily that one does not imply the other. But, too many people confuse the two. Just to be clear, let’s define our terms.

Discoverability
In a web application context, this equates to how long it takes a user to figure out how to perform a specific task without any previous training or documentation. If you said “buy me a boat”, can the user figure out how to do it? It also covers finding new things you didn’t even know you wanted. Note that we are not talking about the ability for the user to find your website in the first place, such as via Google.

Usability
Can the user continue to efficiently use the application over long periods of time? Or are they constantly stumbling over things? My favorite counter-example here is Microsoft Word and its hatred of bulleted and numbered lists. Anyone who has ever fought with lists in Word will understand this."    (Continued via No, I am better than that!)    [Usability Resources]

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