It Just Works – The Importance of Product Usability

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Usability is always a top consideration in product design, and it’s key to emphasize that incorporating user-centered design principles can lead to an overall better product.  If a product is “usable”, people are more inclined to use it and to recommend it to others.

As discussed in the documentary, Objectified, it’s the features you don’t recognize that make a product useable. A good design tends to get out of your way and seems natural.

ObjectifiedWatch Objectified on Netflix here. 

In just a few short years, the technologies found in today’s mobile and computer devices such as touch screens, the cloud, and voice-control software, have radically transformed usability expectations of consumers. It’s no secret that Apple played a leading role in shifting these expectations. While design is a critical component of every product that Apple makes, if it is not easy to use, it is considered worthless to the consumer. Essentially, all of the products that Apple creates are fabricated with the goal of being intuitive and easy to understand and learn.

Given the touch-centric digital era that we live in, it became apparent to Microsoft that PC users would eventually evolve away from the traditional point-and-click functionality of the Windows desktop. With the recent launch of Windows 8, Microsoft has radically transformed its user interface strategy. Windows 8 is a significant change from Microsoft and Windows 7; turning the Start menu into an interactive screen that’s well suited for touch devices like tablets. While the product has received mixed reviews, in a nutshell, the new interface is powerful, fast and convenient for users.

Windows 8 includes a brilliant feature called picture passwords that allows you to login to your account by using gestures on an image with your finger or your mouse. This facet is especially useful for tablets where you want to avoid typing if you can. Instead of typing in a password, you simply select a picture from your gallery, and then create three gestures on the image to act as your password. When you create the picture password you can use gestures that consist of taps, circles, or lines to set-up a secure login. Once the picture password is created, you can then login to your Windows accounts by executing the gestures in the same direction as when you created them. This method allows for variation in possible passwords on a given picture and allows you to avoid having to use a virtual keyboard.

You can see the technology in action here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBmtde_XNBs&feature=youtu.be

As many users prefer very simple passwords or abandon them altogether, Windows 8 offers a next generation graphical login providing users with a sign-in method that is fast, fluid, and personal.

While Windows 8 offers notable and convenient features, Microsoft risks trying to be all things to all people. In contrast, Apple’s approach reserves the iOS software, for mobile form factors, leaving its OS X desktop software optimized for the traditional keyboard and mouse. Windows 8 is a powerful operating system, but it’s also confusing to old PC users.  Could Windows 8’s modern UI completely replace the storied desktop one day? Perhaps. Microsoft may be heading in the right direction, but Windows 8 is only the first step in a much longer interface design journey.

A lot has been said about how Windows 8 is a bold step, but really, it’s just opening the door to the next Windows 9 interface.

Usability will continue to be a key role in the adoption of new products. The launch of companies like Square (https://squareup.com) prove that there is room for plenty of additional ways to disrupt traditional markets, such as payment processing.

There are several resources available to help your product become more usable. Perhaps the biggest consulting firm on usability is Human Factors International (http://www.humanfactors.com). If you don’t have the resources to hire a consulting firm you should at minimum read, “Don’t Make Me Think” and “Rocket Surgery Made Easy” by Steve Krug. Both books are exceptional for helping you on usability and user testing.

Which products do you feel are most usable? Any additional resources I should share?

-Jason