We keep hearing about jargons like User Experience (UX) designing, User Interface (UI) designing, User Centric design and so on. So are these concepts related or are these just glorified jargons? Well, yes and no. Since the emergence of the Web 2.0 in the mid 2000s, the concept of Usability has gained importance. In fact, a new skillset got introduced in the IT market called ‘Usability Engineering’. Usability Engineering Certifications were introduced thus delivering Usability Engineers and these resources were in demand. Since then, the web design standards have been continuously evolving and even new jargons like UX designing and UI designing are being used by the design fraternity, which is all nothing but a concoction of same thing which is Usability. Well, purists will definitely argue otherwise on this.
So what exactly is Usability? If you read the concept of Usability, you will find it interesting and relevant for web designers. This epic book ‘Don’t Make Me Think’ by Steve Krug would be a good one to start. Usability emphasises more on one specific aspect of designing and that is ‘user-friendliness’. Though designers take into consideration this aspect (mostly in the back of their minds) while designing a layout, this was an ignored area till Usability came into existence. Design professionals, though very good at their work, many a times are biased towards their designs to a great extent. They forget the fact that a design has to cater to a certain target audience and its important to understand certain aspects of the target audience like age, profession, general maturity levels, their industry benchmarks and so on. All these details go a long way in creating a design which can truly appeal to its target users. Adapting Usability principles while designing actually reduces the iterations for the design professional. Its like designing with the business case in mind and that actually helps produce a design suited to the target users of the product.
Usability is also about choosing the right colours and right fonts and the right images. For example, corporate websites tend to use sober or blue colours as blue represents corporate. Medical websites tend to use green colours. Partying websites or online night clubs usually use dark colours. So these are certain implied stanards which are already in existence since long. Usability explains on why these aspects are important while designing a website.
Usability also throws light on the design mistakes that people do while creating websites. So designers also get an idea of what not to do while creating designs.
In the long run, I have seen designers who embrace Usability end up making better designs suited to their target customers.
For a beginner to be introduced to Usability, I would recommend these books:
Information Architecture for the WorldWide Web
Don’t Make Me Think
Institutionalisation of Usability a step by step guide