Friday, June 01, 2007

A Great Leap Forward: The Birth of the Usability Profession (1988-1993)

An historical overview of usability in PDF format ...

"Before the birth
Before we begin, I want to make a distinction between
the subject matter areas of computer-human
interaction (HCI) and product usability. While there
were some antecedents, interest in HCI began with the
Gaithersburg, VA meeting in 1982 titled, “Human
Factors in Computing Systems.” Over the remaining
years of that decade, a dedicated group of mostly
psychologists and human factors researchers published
studies and analysis papers on human-computer
interaction. Several books were published on designing
user-based software (Rubinstein & Hersh, 1984;
Simpson 1985; Shneiderman, 1987; Brown, 1988;
Dumas, 1988), but none of them used the term
“usability” in the title. Discussions about evaluation
methods focused on the research experiment and
guideline and checklist reviews. A typical quote from
that era:

“Academic and industrial researchers are discovering
that the power of traditional scientific methods can be
fruitfully employed in studying interactive systems”
(Shneiderman, 1987, p.411)

There were only a few academic graduate programs in
HCI, and most of them emphasized the application of
behavioral science research methods. HCI was viewed,
I believe, as a new area in which to apply traditional
methods rather than a one requiring its own unique
methods. Usability testing was still seen as a variation
of the research experiment and inspections of user
interfaces were done by applying long lists of guidelines
of good practice. The most well known list was Smith
and Moser’s 997 guidelines (1984)

The leap forward
I believe the birth of the usability profession started
with the work of John Whiteside at Digital Equipment
Corporation and John Bennett at IBM. During the late
1980s, they published a number of chapters and papers
on the topic of “usability engineering” (Whiteside,
Bennett, & Holtzblatt,1988)

These publications explicitly and implicitly made the
case for a new approach to product design and
evaluation. Instead of stressing the research
experiment, they stressed a quantitative but practical
engineering approach to product design. The approach
stressed early goal setting, prototyping, and iterative
evaluation – the foundations of our development
methods. It stressed the importance of the work
context in creating usable and functional products to
improve productivity. It also favored integration of
usability teams into product design teams and an
assessment of the costs and benefits of design
decisions.

This approach became the foundation for usability
methods over the next decade and made the terms
“usable” and “usability engineering” the words of choice
to describe well-designed products and the process by
which they should be designed."    (Continued via Journal of Usability Studies )    [Usability Resources]

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