Usability remains an afterthought

As much as software vendors skimp on QA testing these days, user case testing is being overlooked with even greater regularity.

Have you ever tried to do something with your PC only to discover that you couldn't? It isn't that the software can't handle it -- the function you need is in there somewhere, as advertised on the packaging or in the long e-mail chain of functionality added to an internal app. The problem is that you simply don't know how to find it.

Welcome to a new era in poor usability. As much as software vendors skimp on QA (quality assurance) testing these days, user case testing is being overlooked with even greater regularity. As publishers and IT departments race to meet shipping deadlines, too much of the overall product or project ends up being designed by programmers, rather than user interface experts. Unfortunately, that often means the software suits programmers' sensibilities better than our own.

Where software vendors do pay attention to appearances, the trend is to design flashy interfaces with lots of eye candy. Yet slick graphics don't necessarily translate into a pleasant user experience -- and it doesn't help when developers pile on feature after feature.

"In designing any user interface, one of your key decisions concerns the tradeoff between features and simplicity," writes usability expert Jakob Nielsen in a recent blog post. "The more features, the more complicated the system inevitably becomes."

Ironically, feature creep is coupled with another disappointing trend: the elimination of printed manuals or user guides. Users are expected to understand how software works, right out of the box, even as the user interface grows steadily more complex with each new version.

According to Nielsen, the problem with complex UIs is that the user is seldom really motivated to figure out an unfamiliar program. "To determine how much complexity you can afford in a user interface, you must analyze user engagement levels," he writes. "Do they care deeply, or do they just want to get something done as quickly as possible?"

And how can you tell when users will be adequately engaged with your software to allow you to pile on the features?

Nielsen's advice there is simple. "Typically, users care less than you think!"

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Neil McAllister

InfoWorld
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?