Usability Engineering, studies the human interaction and cognitive behavior of an individual with respect to performing as task. It could be as simple as a driving a vehicle or using a product. User’s interaction in performing a task should be in sync with the workflow of the product. Usability Engineering as a science helps in achieving this goal.
Usability for a Product
A Product should be usable. It means that people can use a product easily and efficiently to accomplish their own tasks. A product, which is usable, enables workers to concentrate on their tasks and to do real work, rather than on the tools they use to perform their tasks.
A usable product has the following characteristics:
- It’s easy to learn
- Efficient to use
- Provides quick recovery from errors
- Easy to remember
- Enjoyable to use
- Visually pleasing
Usability applies to every aspect of a product with which a person interacts (hardware, software, menus, icons, messages, documentation, training, and on-line help). Every design and development decision made throughout the product cycle has an impact on that product’s usability.
As customers depend more and more on software to get their jobs done and become more critical consumers, usability can be the critical factor that ensures that products will be used.
Usability Engineering Techniques
Usability engineering involves a variety of techniques that can provide important information about how customers work with your product. Different techniques are used at different stages of a product’s development.
For example, as processes are being engineered and requirements are being developed, observations and interviews may be the techniques of choice. Later in the development cycle, as the “look and feel” of a product is being designed, benchmarking, prototyping and participatory design may be useful techniques. Once a design has been determined, usability testing may be used more appropriately. Usability is an iterative process, just like software development. The usability process works best if it is done in partnership with product development.
Some usability techniques include
1. User and task observations – observing users at their jobs, identifying their typical work tasks and procedures, analyzing their work processes, and understanding people in the context of their work.
2. Interviews, focus groups and questionnaires – meeting with users, finding out about their preferences, experiences and needs.
3. Benchmarking and competitive analysis – evaluating the usability of similar products in the marketplace.
4. Participatory design - participating in design and bringing the user’s perspective to the early stages of development.
5. Paper prototyping – including users early in the development process through prototypes prepared on paper before coding begins.
6. Creation of guidelines - helping to assure consistency in design through development of standards and guidelines.
7. Heuristic evaluations - evaluating software against accepted usability principles and making recommendations to enhance usability.
8. Usability testing - observing users performing real tasks with the application, recording what they do, analyzing the results and recommending appropriate changes.