Usability (Was: What's it called?)

Subject: Usability (Was: What's it called?)
From: Mark Magennis <markmagennis -at- YAHOO -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 6 May 1999 01:52:50 -0700

John Posada's instructions include the following line:

Step 1: In the directory C:\Program\<ApplicationName>, you will
find a file named mdac_typ.exe.

I recently introduced a company-wide standard for documents,
faxes, and letters, using Word templates and a written guide.
The guide included some instructions similar to John's. It
wasn't until I carried out a usability test that I realised that
some users have the Windows folder option "Hide file extensions
for known file types" checked. In John's case, those users
wouldn't see any .exe extensions. In my case, users were
confused because they couldn't see .doc and .dot extensions.
This caused them very real problems and reduced ther faith in
the guide.

This experience illustrates why usability testing of
instructions is so useful. It's not just about uncovering
configuration problems either. I could tell a dozen similar
stories about problems that arose from differences in
interpreting words and concepts, differences in prior knowledge
and experience, even differences in attitude. None of these
problems were anticipated when I created the materials. All
could be alleviated by changes to the templates and guide.

I was quite astonished at how many serious usability problems I
uncovered. My usability test produced 63 concrete
recommendations for improvements, some of which meant huge
changes. As a result, what we now have is widely regarded as
easy to work with. I feel sure that without the usability test
the whole standardisation attempt would have failed.


Mark Magennis | Technical Author
FM Systems Ltd. | Information Developer
Leopardstown Office Park | Tel: +353 (0)1 295 2549
Foxrock, Dublin 18 | Fax: +353 (0)1 295 2554
Ireland | markmagennis -at- yahoo -dot- com
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