Design & UX
By Matthew Magain

Usability Double-whammy!

By Matthew Magain


We think we know what the word means, but many people struggle to define or describe it. Of course, we always know when something is usable, because it feels “intuitive”. And we certainly know when something is not usable, as it frustrates the heck out of us.

We might read a bit about the topic of usability every now and then, or feel inspired to actually apply some user-centred design techniques or perform structured usability testing in our day-to-day work. Personally I find myself getting all fired up about this stuff after attending a conference, but a few days afterwards the practical reality of a daily routine means it falls by the wayside.


So how much from the masses of usability theory do we actually use when we build our web sites, and how much goes out the window in exchange for our own judgment calls, or for something that we know has worked in the past? Do you need to be an expert with academic credentials to be able to apply this stuff? Sometimes even the experts fail to agree, or the theory is far removed from the practical, or it forces us to sacrifice aesthetics to get a tick in every box. What’s actually involved in making a web site usable?

The Usability KitHot on the heels of World Usability Day, I’m very proud to announce the launch of The Usability Kit, by Gerry Gaffney and Daniel Szuc. Packed with real-world examples, blueprints and best practice tips, The Usability Kit steps you through design techniques like card sorting, paper prototyping and affinity diagramming, and shows you how to conduct focus groups, user interviews and large-scale usability testing for your clients’ web sites. (check out the table of contents for a complete breakdown).

As technical editor of the kit, I can vouch for the wealth of practical advice that the kit contains — you’ll gain both the know-how and the confidence to build sites that work, and you’ll know they work because they’ll have been shaped by users at all stages of the site’s lifecycle.

As with all of SitePoint’s kits, this one comes bundled with a stack of goodies, such as a CD-ROM containing all of the schematics explained in the kit. It also includes something that we’re calling the Magnetic Web Widgets — magnetic buttons, text fields, checkboxes and other form fields that you can use to lay out your next web site on the whiteboard in the meeting room, or on the fridge in the kitchen! They are definitely the coolest set of magnets that you’ll ever own, making magnetic poetry look oh-so-2001. Plus there’s the money back guarantee that we offer on all of our books and kits.

So what’s the second part of this double-whammy? Well, all I can say is to look out for a terrific usability blogger around these traps very soon (wink, wink). I’m very excited about this one. Stay tuned!

  • Looks like I’ll be getting another great book from SitePoint again! The usability in my scripts is something I always find myself fighting with. I’ll definitely be getting this book to add to the collection. Thanks!

  • Joe

    No one pays attention to useability except corporate developers.

  • Good to see a ruthlessly practical approach being taken, breaking it down into common site elements is a very, er, usable approach, which I can see really appealing to the hassled developer/designer. Good luck with it!

    I think the Table of Contents is well worth pointing people at.

    Oh, and the Widgets look like a great gimmick (and useful too!)


  • Thanks Matt, I’ve snuck in a link there now ;-)

    Glad you approve of the blueprints approach. I think it’s what makes the kit so valuable–taking web patterns and making them useful and immediately applicable.

  • dhoom

    usability is such a sbjective thing. Some things common sense fror one set of people are total no no for others

  • No one pays attention to useability except corporate developers.

    And the users… but eh they aren’t really that important now are they.

    Just because your everyday user doesn’t use the word usability to describe his problem, doesn’t change that poor usability often is the problem.

  • usability is such a sbjective thing.

    That may be true, but there is a science to finding out what it is that works for your audience. It’s that process that the kit teaches, not “you should always make your sites like this”. The blueprints are guidelines to help you get started, but not a silver bullet.

  • Nick Besseling

    Great to see Sitepoint coming out with a Usability kit. (about time).

    Hopefully some of the negativity around implementing usability techniques for your readers will change with such easy to use information.

    As for the bloke who said ‘noone cares about usability’ and that ‘usablity is subjective’ I suggest that they should be one of the first to buy it.

  • usability is such a subjective thing.

    No, it’s not really. There are plenty of ways to objectively measure usability. For example, it’s relatively simple to set a task for a group of users and measure if it’s completed — and how long that takes.

    No ambiguity there.

  • dev_cw

    Great initiative by SP. A usability blog will be well received.

  • Looks good! Looking forward to this release. As far as the poster that stated corporate developers are the only ones who care, once you explain the potential legal ramifications as well as the positive (ie less bandwidth more customers) benefits, its not really a debate anymore. Except for those that truly don’t care about their users, and they are ignorant.

    Nuff said

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