There’s something wrong with our computer systems. Much of our time is filled with frustration – websites and intranets that don’t let us find the information we want, word processors that lose hours of work with a click of the mouse, remote controls that have more buttons than we could possibly need.‘Usability’ is widely seen as the answer to many of these frustrating interactions with technology.
However, digital participation alone is not enough; to be competitive in today’s market the quality of the website matters more than ever. A well-designed website increases awareness of the company and in the case of e-commerce can lead directly to increased sales, thus much research has gone into finding out which features of a website have the biggest positive effect on customer behaviour.
One of the criteria for any successfully designed product is ‘usability’.
But what is usability?
Usability is a measurement of how well a system allows us to interact with it and achieve our goals. It focuses on users, systems, environments and tasks.Usability not only deals with how easy to use a product is, but also whether or not a user manages to do with the product what he wanted to and how the product allows him to do these things within the specific environment and circumstances in which he finds himself in. As an example, think about this: Which is more usable, a book or an e-reader?
If we only consider the ease of use, the book will most likely be seen as the better product, in the sense that it is much easier to guess how it works. But if the scenario was a person wanting to go on vacation and taking a lot of reading material with him, and if we take the whole scope of usability into account, meaning the goals of the user, the environment and how easy to use it is, an e-reader could be much more usable in the sense that it can carry much more information in a compact and more portable device.
Web usability is an approach to make web sites easy to use for an end-user, without the requirement that any specialized training be undertaken. The user should be able to intuitively relate the actions she needs to perform on the web page with other interactions she sees similar contexts, e.g., press a button to perform some action.
Usability is a combination of factors including:
- Intuitive design: a nearly effortless understanding of the architecture and navigation of the site
- Ease of learning: how fast a user who has never seen the user interface before can accomplish basic tasks
- Efficiency of use: How fast an experienced user can accomplish tasks
- Memorability: after visiting the site, if a user can remember enough to use it effectively in future visits
- Error frequency and severity: how often users make errors while using the system, how serious the errors are, and how users recover from the errors
- Subjective satisfaction: If the user likes using the system
Why Is Usability Important?
Ultimately, website usability is important because it’s about customer service. The goal of any organization or business professional is to meet their customer’s expectations and needs, as quickly and dependably as possible. In business as in life, we want to be significant; we want to be useful. And in order to attract and keep customers coming back, we have to maintain our usability on every front. That includes the web. So whether you’re an employee or an owner, it’s important for you and your team to know that website usability can have a significant impact on your department’s ability to achieve its mission, boost returns on any investments, and serve customers.
For example, consider the goal of helping patients to find important health related information and resources. The usability of a website designed to meet this need, would impact any efforts to attract, retain, and satisfy those populations (e.g. students and patients) and their ability to make informed decisions for their future health. This is no small thing. It is incredibly significant. Further, the simple fact is that the internet is very much a staple in our daily lives. Proliferation of the digital marketplace into nearly every nook and cranny of our world makes usability increasingly significant over time. In regards to education and healthcare, industries which empower and enable us to thrive intelligently, website usability is virtually imperative.