Usability is Design

Posted April 24th, 2007 by Mike Cherim

To better understand this post’s curious title, you must understand design and recognize it for what it is — what it really is. Immediately you might think of colors, images, and patterns, but design is so much more. Design is something that touches our lives continuously, day in and day out. From the subtle touches to full-out implementations that, if done properly, are unappreciated, taken for granted, and go unnoticed unless absent.

Think about it: Your eating utensils, the placement of your car’s user controls and instruments, your new and improved can opener and how it feels in your hand, everything in your life. All of it is the ever-continuing result of the design process in action. And the best of it works precisely as expected, without instruction, hesitation, or tutorial.

This also applies to a web site’s user interface.

In web development, as the discipline demands, developers must see a project on many levels. This is done to ensure interoperability, to maintain accessibility, provide a pleasing appearance, full functionality, all while considering usability and enhancements to such. In a nutshell this is web design. Some will argue that web development and web design are not conveniently interchangeable terms, but without design, development would likely fail. The reason is simple: As much as design touches us in our daily lives, we also court it religiously in our professional lives as web developers.

In the very beginning, when a web project enters the proverbial cocktail napkin stage, design must be considered. Not to show off design skills in the end, but for the sake of usability. To provide that seamless unappreciated user experience. Where will the site’s controls live? What pages will there be? What is the site’s purpose; and its goals? What will users expect and how will they interact. What would you expect? Put yourself in the users’ shoes! Colors, images, and patterns will come later.

Remember this on your next project. Instead of having to explain a feature or offer tutorial, make it easy to use. Features should be available on demand. Make it intuitive and out-of-the-box operable.

Visiting a new web site should sort of be like setting up a new television. Yeah it comes with a fifty page user’s manual, but the user isn’t going to read it unless they get stuck, and if it’s well done they won’t. Plug it in, turn it on, watch your favorite show. Remember that usability is design. And everything else should follow.

6 Responses to: “Usability is Design”

  1. Mike J responds:
    Posted: April 24th, 2007 at 8:57 pm

    If only clients thought like that, most projects start off on the wrong foot; making it look pretty with little regard for the user, which is a shame.

    Its all about balance, and what you say is spot on.

  2. Gill responds:
    Posted: April 25th, 2007 at 10:03 am

    I feel a T-Shirt coming on.

    Mike says…..
    Usability is Design

  3. Elliott Cross responds:
    Posted: April 25th, 2007 at 3:08 pm

    I agree completely. Without being able to easily find your way around, or quickly locate what you are looking for, I tend to leave most sites, and keep ‘Googling’ what I’m looking for. I hate to waste time, especially on dialup connections.

    As far as a T-shirt, how about “Got Mike?”

  4. Tom Barta responds:
    Posted: May 20th, 2007 at 11:42 am

    I wish more designers believed this. I’ve seen awful decisions made in the name of cuteness (like “the help button doesn’t say help unless you move your mouse over it for more than 1/2 a second”, which of course means it becomes useless to the people who really need the help).

    I’d also like to point out that some pretty bad decisions about car dashboards still being made. I drove a Toyota Matrix that had chrome-finiched rings around the gauges, making them impossible to read when the sun’s behind you (why would you ever put a reflective surface in front of the driver?).

    It also breaks the standard of “green tick-marks, orange dials”. Not that breaking the standard is wrong, but they went with “orange tick-marks, orange dials”, making it impossible to see guages with peripheral vision. I have to look directly at my speedometer to see how fast the car is going because the dial blends in with the tick-marks behind it.

    For a commercial website, mistakes like this could cost a little bit of money, but for the driver of a car, distracting interfaces can mean the difference between life or death.

Sorry. Comments are closed.

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