As the President of the Usability Professionals’ Association of New Zealand (you can just call me ‘Mr President’), I\’m charged with supporting and growing “usability” in this country.
Well, things seem to be ticking along quite nicely, with the latest UPA survey of over 1300 usability professionals worldwide (including a healthy 21 responses from little NZ), showing that some local usability professionals must be doing quite well, earning on average of $55,850 USD.
Based on the Aug/Sept 2005 exchange rate (when the survey took place) this equates to about $80,000 NZD. Based on today\’s exchange rate that\’s upwards of $85,000 NZD.
But, despite “usability” fast gaining ground in New Zealand, I\’m in a bit of a dilemma.
It\’s because of this “usability” thing…
…what is “usability” anyway?
Here\’s some snippets from typical conversation in the Wellington web software industry:
‘’¦it needs some usability’¦’
‘’¦we\’re the usability specialists’¦’
‘’¦I\’m trying to justify allocating some of the budget for usability’¦’
In fact, what these people probably need to communicate is:
‘’¦it needs a designer with a user-centred focus, and who will test their designs, so then we can be confident that it will succeed in the real world’¦’
‘’¦we\’re specialists in reviewing and testing designs with customers (or the perspective of customers) so designers/developers can improve the effectiveness of their product’¦’
‘’¦I\’m trying to justify allocating some of the budget towards a user-centred design process and the benefits it will bring to the project team and user experience’¦’
Yes, it\’s a bit more wordy, but notice how I haven\’t used the term ‘usability’?
Increasingly I (and a few other usability industry\’ people I’ve been chatting to) regard ‘usability’ as a broad statement for a vision or end goal’¦
- You cannot just plug-in\’ usability.
- Usability is not a thing.
Usability is achieved in the same way that coolness\’ is achieved because a product has usually been designed with this goal, and (as Don Norman puts it), has the sum of the Three Levels of Design: Visceral, Behavioral and Reflective.
And when it comes to the day-to-day nuts and bolts of designing something, ‘usability’ is actually achieved through the process of…
research > design > test > iterations etc.
…backed with a user-centred design method or ethos.