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.

'Usability' or 'Design Evolution'? Photo by Bob Medcalf.

'Usability' or 'Design Evolution'? Photo by Bob Medcalf.

But, despite “usability” fast gaining ground in New Zealand, I\’m in a bit of a dilemma.

It\’s because of this “usability” thing…

(that word)

…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.