Usability defined in simple terms is the quality of a product that determines how easy it is to use it without facing any negative emotion.
For Instance, Let’s say you are in a new country and you want to take some cash out of the ATM Machine.
As you reach there you see that the instructions on the screen are in the language that you do not understand.
At that moment, the simple experience of taking out cash from that ATM machine becomes unusable to you.
When we talk about Usability it is also crucial to highlight that the aesthetics should never be the reason for compromising usability.
We have all felt frustration over interfaces which are not readable, use icons without labels or use technical jargons.
All these things erode customer’s faith in a product and they might not want to come back to use it again.
So, it’s crucial to think about Usability from the beginning.
How ISO defines Usability
To understand Usability better, let’s see how ISO defines Usability.
According to them, usability is defined as an extent to which a system, product or service can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use. ( ISO 9241-11:2018)
This definition can be broken down into two main parts:
Part 1 is about User and their Context. It includes Specified users, their specified goals and their specified context of use.
Part 2 is about the Attributes of a usable product. It includes effectiveness, efficiency and the satisfaction.
Let’s discuss them in detail.
User and their Context
Every product caters to the need of a target or specified users.
It does not matter how great the technology and the aesthetics of your product is, it will not be relevant to your users if it is not customized for their needs.
For instance, When Amazon launched in India, they realized that there are several insecurities associated with online payments.
Also, the debit card penetration was not very high at the time they launched.
Amazon had to give Cash on Delivery to make the service usable for Indian users.
Another example could be of a Bank which is launching a new online service for elder citizens.
If they do not customize their platform keeping in mind about potential visual impairments, comfort level with technology and their financial situation, they might well be headed for failure.
If your product is not relevant or fit to be used by its intended users, then it is not usable.
When someone is using your website or your app, they have certain goals in mind.
While using a Cab booking app, the goal is to go from one destination to another.
While using an online clothing store the goal is to buy clothes online.
It is important that these goals are accomplished on your product without any friction.
It is also important to also think about goals which are not the primary goal but are still relevant.
For example, in times of any query, the user’s goals could be to contact you.
Define the user’s goals keeping in mind the usual and extreme scenarios.
Specified Context of Use
Usability is also subjective to the user’s environment and context.
It is a combination of users, goals and tasks, resources, and environment.
For instance – A US car manufacturer cannot sell the same cars they sell in the US to India. Because while the US has a left-handed driving system; India has a right-handed driving system.
Localization by setting the right language and currency on websites is another example.
Attributes of a usable product
It means accuracy and completeness with which users achieve specified goals.
For Instance, If while using a cab booking app, the users have to explain their pickup location every time to the driver because the App fails to pick up their location correctly, the users will be very frustrated with the whole experience.
Not only is the app doing an inaccurate job, but it is also making users do half of its job of conveying the correct location to the driver.
It means the resources needed to achieve a certain goal. Typical resources include time, human effort and costs.
For instance, If an enterprise app requires the users to acquire a new skill over multiple hours of training, it may not be worth all the money and time.
The most usable products are effective as they help their users in achieving their goals faster with minimum efforts.
It is a qualitative measure of Usability and is also a bit trickier.
Satisfaction measures how well a product is perceived by the users upon actual use.
Help us in order to understand that fulfilling the users’ needs sometimes is not just enough, a product has to anticipate their expectations as well.
For instance, even if an e-commerce website is extremely easy to use, the users can report non-satisfaction over no discounts in the Holiday season.
Satisfaction is highly subjective to your specified users.
The language, the imagery, the color or the overall experience can affect the satisfaction amongst users.
Why Usability Matters?
Giving a usable experience is your basic courtesy towards your users.
If they are spending their time and money on your product, it makes sense to ensure they are happy while doing so.
But this is just one aspect of it.
Usability also makes a good case for business.
A lot of transactions these days are subscription based in nature, where if the users like the service, then only they are going to purchase from you again.
This is both exciting as well as a scary proposition for businesses.
If you provide your users with a great experience, they are going to come back to you, and if not then they will go to someone who provides a better experience.
Secondly, Every user who visits your website or downloads your application has an intention to engage with you. But if they are leaving without any transaction, that is a lost opportunity and hence lost money.
Even if they were there to just do some window shopping or trying out, still if the experience is bad, they will not use your product when they are actually ready for the purchase.
Studies to illustrate this point.
- Shopping cart abandonment rate means the percentage of users who took an effort to find something on an online store and put it in a cart to shop, and still abandoned it at the end just before checking out the cart.
Baymard Institute calculated the average shopping cart abandonment rate.
According to this research, Based on 40 different studies this rate came out to an astonishing 69.89%.
This further translates into $260 billion worth of lost orders which are recoverable solely through a better checkout flow & design.
- If you run an e-commerce website and you think you are doing okay, this study just shows you can do much better.
A Google study says that, compared to two years ago, smartphone users today are 50% more likely to expect to purchase something immediately while using their smartphones.
53% of visits are abandoned if a mobile site takes longer than 3 seconds to load.
46% of the people say they would not purchase from a brand again if they had an interruptive mobile experience.
Nearly 9 in 10 smartphones owners who describe a mobile brand experience as helpful or relevant would purchase from the brand again.
- Virgin America in 2014 reinvented their digital experience and tested out their new designs.
They soon announced an IPO following two successful quarters.
They saw a 14% increase in conversion rate.
There were20% fewer support calls and Flyers booked nearly twice as fast, on any kind of device.
So, it does not really matter which industry you are in, as long as you have a digital presence; you need to ensure that the whole user experience is usable.
I encourage you to look at the research studies done on the ROI of Usability in your industry.
Usability Evaluation Methods
Usability defined in simple terms is the quality of a product that determines how easy it is to use it without facing any negative emotion. There are broadly 2 ways of usability evaluation methods
Usability testing essentially means that you evaluate your product based on how your users are using it.
The users are given a task, and then you measure the product’s performance based on metrics like task success rate, time on task, error rate and at times subjective satisfaction.
It also helps in identifying the parts that are causing dissatisfaction among the users.
Throughout the course of usability testing, the users are asked to think.
It can be moderated, where the member(s) of the product team is told to facilitate the test, make observations and ask questions.
It can also be unmoderated, where the users are using the product without any facilitator.
In both the cases, the users are requested to think aloud about what they are doing.
User’s actions, emotions, and the words are captured through screen recordings and cameras.
These days remote testing for both moderated and unmoderated testing is becoming really popular and it does not require any sophisticated Testing Lab.
There are a lot of studies done in the field which have led to certain guidelines which can be used by the Product team to test their product even without any actual users.
It involves 3-5 UX experts individually assessing a product and suggesting improvements. Then they collect all the observations and improvements create a report.
It is sometimes also termed as Heuristic Evaluation method. Apart from using the standard parameters, a team can create their own heuristics which are more relevant to them.
This is a very common question and there is no specific answer to it. In fact, they are complementary in nature. None of them is a substitute for other.
An audit is especially useful for teams with no UX experts in-house. This way they can develop something that is usable from the very beginning.
It is crucial to understand that conducting Usability testing requires time, money and effort.
The good research practices dictate that no user interview should take more than 60 minutes. Which means it is not remotely possible to get feedback on each and every task from the users.
Also, there is no point in using Usability Testing for finding issues that could have been found with Usability Audits.
This is when Usability Audits are significantly important.
They remove many flaws in the UX even before you are testing it with the real users.
It also gives you feedback on the tasks or flows which you cannot test with the actual users.