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Perfect usability?

By Richard Whitehand, February 2002

Have you ever heard somebody say:

"There aren't any usability problems with our product"

It sounds great, doesn't it?... Perhaps the person concerned was talking about their web site, or a piece of software, or perhaps even a consumer product. Sadly, there is no such thing as a product with perfect usability! The challenge is to develop a product which doesn't have any major usability problems.

Used Web Salesman
Special deal! No usability problems!
Only one careful surfer!

One should be suspicous of a product which is portrayed as having no usability problems. There is a high likelihood that those producing it simply don't know of any usability problems because they haven't tested it with real users. Usability testing ALWAYS reveals usability problems.

Now, perhaps you are wondering why it is worth worrying about usability if there are always going to be problems? Well, by understanding the problems that your product has (perferably early in development), you prioritise design changes and improvements so that the bigger problems are alleviated.

Often, identifying and tackling the 'top 10' usability problems with a product will give huge improvements in how successful and satisfied users are with it (100% improvement is not uncommon). For an e-commerce web site that could mean doubling turnover!

Given sufficient resources then you can start to tackle some of the less important problems as well. However, without first identifying, understanding and prioritising usability issues, you won't know whether the design improvements you are making are actually worth the resources required.

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