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What is usability?

Wikipedia: Usability is a term used to denote the ease with which people can employ a particular tool or other human-made object in order to achieve a particular goal. Usability can also refer to the methods of measuring usability and the study of the principles behind an object’s perceived efficiency or elegance.

In other words, usability is the degree to which a user (website visitors) are able to complete the expected task.  For example, on an e-commerce website, if the user is not able to find the checkout, they will not be able to complete their purchase. 

Jared Spool from User Interface Engineering, a leader in usability testing, uses two definitions for the word “usable”:

  1. “Black-and-white definition” – Can the user achieve their goal?
  2. “Shades-of-grey definition” – Can the user’s experience be better?

He states that websites must strive to satisfy the black-and-white definition before the shades-of-grey definition.  If a function is not being used to achieve the expected goal, their is no need to improve the experience of the user for this function. 

Over the next half dozen articles, I will be going more into depth of each step of the usability testing process.  Usually, this procedure involves the following 6 steps:

  1. Brainstorming objectives
  2. Recruiting participants
  3. Designing tasks
  4. Rehearsing the test protocol
  5. Conducting the usability test
  6. Analyzing results

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