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Subject:Usability (long) From:"M. David Orr" <whitears -at- INTERACCESS -dot- COM> Date:Tue, 23 Jun 1998 13:18:05 -0500
Melissa Hunter-Kilmer wrote:
>My little doc dept. is thinking about doing a dog-and-pony show for
>our IT division, of which we are a part, because they don't really get
>what we do and why they need us.
>We thought we'd do a demo on why careful instructions are important
>(we have an exercise in mind) and one on usability. We've probably
>already sold the rest of the division on the careful instructions, but
>that just means we'll start out with some agreement, which is nice.
>Usability is another matter. My wonderful company (which can read my
>e-mail at will) has been issuing products lately with new features
>that have been tested by actual users only in a very cursory fashion.
>While the products themselves are marvelous and our users adore them,
>these new features are giving the users some problems after
>deployment. (Big surprise, huh?) So we'd like to demonstrate why
>usability testing is a Good Thing and how we can implement it here.
As one who does a lot of usability testing, I offer several points:
1. 80% of the problems we encounter in usability testing are user interface
issues or conceptual model issues. 20% or less are user assistance issues
(documentation, on-line help, job aids, etc.)
2. Usability testing results have a high degree of deniability by technical
staff unless several key technical people are part of the observation team.
If they are, the results will transform attitudes almost miraculously.
3. Actually, the same thing is true for technical writers. It's hard to
believe how little users use printed documents and online help until the
writer sees it. It's hard to believe that "Conventions of This Manual"
sections are totally useless (unused), but they are. But it is clear that
some things work well (on-screen documentation, context-sensitive help,
graphic mental models, good indexes, good tables of contents, short,
targeted documents, varied approaches to accommodate varied learning
4. Companies that get user input early and often through the development
process produce more usable products. We encourage our clients to do paper
prototypes and heuristic evaluations (experts using a checklist)early in the
design phase. We also help clients develop usability standards and have a
Usability RoadMap(TM) for adding usability "plug-ins" to existing
5. Companies with a new technology that no one else has often can get away
with ignoring usability, that is, until a competitor comes along with a
product that does the same thing, but is more usable.
6. Companies that do usability testing tend to win awards. Our usability
clients have won five top industry awards in the last couple of years.
M. David Orr
Orr & Associates/Usability Management
7366 N. Lincoln Ave., Suite 101
Lincolnwood, IL, USA 60646
Mailto: whitears -at- orrnet -dot- com
Web site: http://www.orrnet.com