On Usability

Some of my most popular blog posts have been rants on poor usability. That such rants from a layman are popular and accurate reflects poorly on the current state of product and software design. It’s as if consumer electronics and software were astronaut tools, designed by earthbound marketroids with no knowledge of microgravity.

Yet usability is not astroscience.

I wouldn’t call myself a usability professional, but I’m happy to take on the mantle of usability expert. As should you. In my mind, all users are usability experts, and have a duty to speak out against poor usability and product design. After all, what is usability if not the ability for casual consumers to get the most from a product? And who better to decide the success of that product’s design than the casual user?

Instead, we’ve fallen into a lazy, disinterested mode of consumption. We put up with crap design and poor usability in exchange for ubiquity and “innovative consumer-driven synergistic marketing opportunities” – products and designs foisted on us because we fall into some definition of a particular market segment. It’s an extension of what Paul Lukas calls inconspicuous consumption:
[quote]It’s about deconstructing the details of consumer culture — details that are either so weird or obscure that we’d never see them, or so ubiquitous that we’ve essentially stopped seeing them. This can mean anything from a bizarre canned good, like sauerkraut juice, to a beautifully designed light-industrial object that we’ve always taken for granted, like the Brannock Device (that gizmo they use to measure your shoe size).[/quote]
Poor Bathroom DesignIn the same way, we’ve stopped caring about the way our products are designed. We assume that modern shampoo bottles have to be aerodynamic, and that electronic volume controls have to be buttons. We take it as given that registration is required on many websites, and that every software package must have a hundreds of different “options” in the preferences pane. Continue reading “On Usability”