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  1. #1
    SitePoint Wizard Ian Glass's Avatar
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    Is Usability Really Make or Break?

    I was just noticing that of electronics around my house, they're all not that usable:
    • My alarm clock has nine buttons, knobs and switches--if I hit the wrong one, the clock resets and wakes me up later than I needed.
    • There're seventeen buttons on an answering machine--delete is directly above preview.
    • Nine on the printer, and the only one I've ever used aside from power is the smallest and lodged between others.
    • The VCR, I think, only has five, but all of the options like tracking were on a tiny-buttoned remote that's since broken.
    • I have to turn on six devices to get my comp up & running: tower, monitor, speakers, modem, printer and scanner.
    • I'm not even going to go into the software issues.
    I'm realizing that I have entire set routines to counter poor designs and usability problems whenever I use this stuff. Instead of me programming them like I want, they've essentially programmed me, which I resent a little: Why do output devices need so much input? Why so much space given to branding? Why don't they organize it better? Etc.

    So, how important is usability, anyway? Is it a primary concern when you buy something? Is price the lead factor? Or marketing?

    ~~Ian

  2. #2
    Sidewalking anode's Avatar
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    You should really check out The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman. It's a really interesting little book that deals with exactly what you're talking about. It's required reading in industrial design and usability houses from what I hear.

    Donald Norman is the Norman in Norman Nielsen Group, btw (with Nielsen being Jakob Nielsen if you didn't know.)

  3. #3
    Your Lord and Master, Foamy gold trophy Hierophant's Avatar
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    Hmmm... I guess it depends on what you buy.

    I turn on one thing to get my computer online, the tower. Everything else automatically comes on at the same time.

    Each of my VCRs have 7 buttons on it and I can do everything with those buttons.

    My Alarm Clock has two buttons on top... One for each alarm. Everything else is on the side and since it has Battery backup and automatic Daylight Savings, I haven't had to change the time for over 6 years.

    My DVD player has 8 buttons. Very easy to use.

    My Printer is an All-In-One office device so it has a few buttons but they are easy to use and understand.

    I have one remote control to manage my entertainment center. This includes the TV, VCR, DVD Player, Dolby Receiver, Satellite Receiver and the volumes on each individual speaker. It even controls the lamp.

    Usability is something I look for when I buy a device. Makes things a lot easier if you start from the beginning.
    Wayne Luke
    ------------


  4. #4
    Ceci n'est pas Zoef Zoef's Avatar
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    Originally posted by anode
    You should really check out The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman. It's a really interesting little book that deals with exactly what you're talking about.
    I second that!
    Another real good book is 'how buildings learn' (forgot the name of the author). It deals with architecture (duh!) but most of what is discussed can be aplied to other technologies.

    One more observation... I find that when I buy a device I don't mind spending an hour playing with it to learn what all the buttons are for.

    I have no such patience when visiting a website.

    Greetings

    Rik
    English tea - Italian coffee - Maltese wine - Belgian beer - French Cognac

  5. #5
    SitePoint Enthusiast
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    I was just noticing that of electronics around my house, they're all not that usable:
    But.. IMHO, a website is vastly different than a "hard" item... if you didn't set your alarm clock correctly, or if it went off in the middle of the night, and all you had to do to get a new alarm clock was click around a bit.. would you keep it? or would you spend a couple of minutes surfing for a new one?

    To a point I agree- with killer content (if your alarm clock played "21st Century Schizoid Man"- and that was the tune you wanted to wake up to)- then poor useability could be overlooked (though it still remains a thorn in your side every time you set it).

    My $.02
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    Chris Bryant
    Bryant RV

  6. #6
    killall -9 lusers
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    Originally posted by W. Luke
    [B]Hmmm... I guess it depends on what you buy.

    I turn on one thing to get my computer online, the tower. Everything else automatically comes on at the same time.
    You people turn off your computers? Now there's a novel idea!

  7. #7
    Your Lord and Master, Foamy gold trophy Hierophant's Avatar
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    Originally posted by KillAllDash9


    You people turn off your computers? Now there's a novel idea!
    Only in severe thunderstorms. I can't afford to have it go down.
    Wayne Luke
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  8. #8
    SitePoint Wizard Ian Glass's Avatar
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    Originally posted by C_Bryant
    But.. IMHO, a website is vastly different than a "hard" item... if you didn't set your alarm clock correctly, or if it went off in the middle of the night, and all you had to do to get a new alarm clock was click around a bit.. would you keep it? or would you spend a couple of minutes surfing for a new one?
    'Spose it depends on how sleepy you were...

    That raises an interesting point, though: do you think subscription services live under the same rules? And not necessarily pay services, either--how many millions use Hotmail even though there're other [better] alternatives where debbydoesdallas doesn't reside. ;-)

    ~~Ian

  9. #9
    Your Lord and Master, Foamy gold trophy Hierophant's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Ian Glass
    how many millions use Hotmail even though there're other [better] alternatives where debbydoesdallas doesn't reside. ;-)
    Are there? Out of free mail services, I actually find Hotmail/MSN to be among the best with the most to offer.
    Wayne Luke
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  10. #10
    ☆★☆★ silver trophy vgarcia's Avatar
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    Originally posted by W. Luke


    Are there? Out of free mail services, I actually find Hotmail/MSN to be among the best with the most to offer.
    I find hotmail usable, even though the pr0n spam gets annoying. My girlfriend got off of hotmail just because she was getting about 100 spam messages per 1 real e-mail.

    --Vinnie

  11. #11
    As the name suggests... trickie's Avatar
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    I think that one of the main reasons that i'm such an Apple fanatic, as in Mac, is that i can see that they take the time to think about usability and industrial design.

    I definately think about usability when i buy, especially electronic goods. I don't overtly study the usability, but it is a deciding factor when choosing between products.

  12. #12
    ☆★☆★ silver trophy vgarcia's Avatar
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    Originally posted by trickie
    I think that one of the main reasons that i'm such an Apple fanatic, as in Mac, is that i can see that they take the time to think about usability and industrial design.

    I definately think about usability when i buy, especially electronic goods. I don't overtly study the usability, but it is a deciding factor when choosing between products.
    I'm much the same way, especially with items I will use everyday such as my car and cellphone. If it's THAT important I have to be extremely comfortable using it.

    --Vinnie

  13. #13
    Non-Member Siltrince's Avatar
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    Originally posted by vgarcia


    I find hotmail usable, even though the pr0n spam gets annoying. My girlfriend got off of hotmail just because she was getting about 100 spam messages per 1 real e-mail.

    --Vinnie
    I realise I'm going a little offtopic here but each and everyone of you should know that 90% of the time spam is your own fault.
    I have my hotmail-account for 3 years now and I receive very little spam ( and the hotmailfilters are disabled ) .

    On topic:
    -----------

    I havn't really thought about thos things but now you mention it , there are probably a lot of things they could have been made better.
    But how does this work in the industry, they can only test their product when it is completely finisched and a prototype costs a lot of money, no ?

  14. #14
    Sidewalking anode's Avatar
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    Non-functioning prototypes aren't very expensive at all, and many of the mistakes made could have been avoided by sticking to industrial design usability guidelines in the first place(as in, other people tested is so you didn't have to.)


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