Stop Usability Problems at Its Inception

Jared Spool has a thoughtful article “Usability Testing. Oh, The Things You Learn“. One of his points is that web development teams have made decisions at certain times where usability problems are introduced because key information is missing at design time.

Preventing Usability Problems in the First Place

If you trace any usability problem to its inception — the point where the problem was introduced into the design — you’ll find the same underlying cause: someone on the design team didn’t have a key piece of information. Had they had that information, they would’ve made a different design decision. That design decision would, subsequently, have resulted in a different design — one without the usability problem.

I can really recognize this situation from several projects I have seen. In one particular situation (a project I had only peripheral contact to), I wanted to point out a handful of serious usability problems. You know, one of those web applications you use on a daily basis — and have to use because of company policy.

I went to the manager responsible for development of the project, and pointed out the five worst issues in the project. (well, the five worst problems in my opinion).

He told me: “Don’t worry, Jesper. The new version is already on it’s way. It will get better”. Half a year later, I saw the new version and the result was dissappointing:

The worst usability problems were still there. The new version added even a few more serious issues.

I think that’s a perfect example of what Jared describes: The team has not been aware of the usability problems that were there in the first place.

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One Response to “Stop Usability Problems at Its Inception”

  1. Emil Stenström Says:

    I agree that just testing usability at the end is a dangerous thing to do. I’m not sure educating all the developers is the right move though. At a couple of projects we’ve had, one usability expert have been with us through the whole project. Having her there really makes all the difference, and when talking to the customer she can help the customer take all the right decisions early on.

    Sure, test afterwards, but make sure usability is there during the whole project too!