Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Usability or user experience - what's the difference?

Toward a definition of UX ...

"The study of the relationship between people and technology has been called a variety of names over the years from computer ergonomics, human computer interaction and usability to, more recently, human-centred design and user experience.

The term user experience is now widely used, especially by major players in the industry including Apple, IBM and Microsoft. However, in many cases, the term is contrasted to usability which is often depicted as a much narrower concept focusing on systems being easy to use.

Other exponents explain that user experience goes beyond usability by including such issues as usefulness, desirability, credibility and accessibility.

Personally, I do not really care what this area is called but I have had to face up to it in my capacity as Chair of the sub-committee of the International Standards Organisation (ISO) which is responsible for the revision of ISO 13407 - the International Standard for Human Centred Design.

The ISO concept of usability is much closer to this definition of user experience than it is to the concept of ‘easy to use’ so we have decided to use the term user experience in the new version of ISO 13407 (which will be called ISO 9241-210 to bring it into line with other usability standards).

Where did it all start?

In 1976, the Displays Group of the British Computer Society (BCS) published a reference book on Visual Display Units (VDUs). In the foreword, the President of the BCS explained the need for this book since VDUs ‘have emerged as an effective and efficient interface between system users and computing systems’. He was certainly right then and although computing has progressed dramatically in the past thirty years, the screens and keyboards which proliferate everywhere today would be surprisingly recognisable as descendents of VDUs to readers of that volume.

I was honoured to be one of the contributors to that book and in my chapter on human factors in the use of VDUs, I presented a highly simplified diagram showing several aspects of the ‘man-computer interface’ (in those days ‘man’ meant mankind, not just males although fortunately the rather strangely drawn figure was male).

In the text, I explained that an effective and efficient interface worked at both the physical (body) and the cognitive (mind) levels. Each arrow represented a set of issues for example:

* keyboards (hardware) should fit the shape and size of fingers (body)
* navigation and coding (software) should matching the way people think (mind)
* coloured screen images (software) should suit the optical properties of the eyes (body)
* keyboard layouts (hardware) should be easy to remember (mind).

Of course, even then, the hardware/software distinction was over-simplified but the point was that the man-computer relationship covered a very wide range of issues."    (Continued via Puting people first, System Concepts)    [Usability Resources]

Man-Computer Interface - Usability, User Interface Design

Man-Computer Interface

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