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One Dimensional usability

For those having trouble grasping how academics (usability researchers & engineers) vs consumers (those who actually use the product) view usability, I recommend you the little-known, but nevertheless excellent thesis by Turkka Keinonen:

One-dimensional Usability - Influence of usability on consumers' product preference

Quoted from the abstract:

'The designers evaluate products according to the reference model. The users and non-users recognise the importance of usability on a general level, but their search behaviour does not allow a meaningful comparison of the user interfaces. Only a fraction of their verbalisation is related to logic, ease-of-use or presentation, and they do not recognise obvious usability defects. Their usability related product evaluation is simplified by the following heuristics. Feature heuristic refers to consumers’ tendency to regard the number of features, or the existence of spesific features as an indicator of product quality.

The one-dimensional usability heuristic omits the influence of user interface design. Only the number of buttons and display elements are applied to assess two related usability concepts – versatility and complexity. “It depends on the way you use it, one needs a better one, another a simpler one, but the quality is the same.” Products are either easy to use with few features, or they are versatile and difficult to use.

The results support the twofold idea of usability. Apparent usability as expected by the consumers and actual measured usability are distinct dimensions. The design for usability has to consider both.'

It's conceptually heavy, do not expect to surf through it in 15 minutes, unless you're profoundly versed in HCI jargon.

Sunday, May 12, 2002

It sure is heavy. I am versed in HCI jargon and that thing's a mutha.

It's a pity that it seems like a good concept, but the author is 1) clearly writing for an academic audience and 2) simply not a skilled writer. I don't mean that the writing's bad because the author may not be a native speaker. I mean that this is Bad Writing, full of needless complexity instead of lucid clarity.

Can anyone summarize the most interesting and applicable ideas here?

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

I haven't read the whole thing, but I think what he's saying is something like this:

If you ask people to talk about how easy to use something was, what they say doesn't necessarily pertain to how well they could actually use it.

So you might have a well-designed interface that for some reason puts people off because it looks hard to use. Or (probably the more common case) an interface that looks "user-friendly" but which most people can't use to complete a given task.

Also, people sometimes latch onto a particular feature as being "necessary" or a sign of "product quality", regardless of whether they actually need it.

So to make a product usable, I suppose not only do you have to make it easy to use, it has to *seem* easy to use so people don't get scared.

It sounds like it's basically saying "First Rule of Usability? Don't Listen to Users".

I haven't read the whole thing, though, so I'm sure there's more to it than that. It's ironic that a usability article should be published as a load of Word documents, which are hardly ideal for online reading.

Sunday, June 2, 2002

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