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Usability Engineering

• References:
– Usability Engineering by Jakob Nielsen,
1993, Academic Press

• Have you ever seen one of the people who
will be users of your current project?
• Have you talked to such a user?
• Have you visited the users’ work
environment and observed what their
tasks are, how they approach these tasks,
and what pragmatic circumstances they
have to cope with?

• Examples

Cost Savings
• Examples
• 63% of large software projects
significantly overran their estimates?
• 4 reasons out of 24 that were related to
– Frequent requests for changes
– Lack of understanding of their own
– etc

Usability Now
• Much more important now
• Consumer dissatisfaction
– “I cant work on this f?#!!@ thing”
– Business Week cover story, 1991

• “features war”
• International user interface
• EU directive on display screens
– s/w must be suitable for the task
– easy to use
– s/w ergonomics must be applied 6
Usability Slogans
• Your best guess is not good enough
– If Caesar could conquer France by admitting
his mistakes, then may be you can win some
market share by admitting yours
• The user is always right
– Not because users are stupid or just should
have tried a little harder
• The user is not always right
– Study of weight of telephone handsets
– Applying same name to an object is 7% - 18%
• Users are not designers
– Leave the design of the interface up to the
individual users
– “I did’nt dare touch them in case something
went wrong”- novice user
– Don’t rely on user customization as the main 7
Usability slogans (contd.,)
• Designers are not users
– System designers are humans & use
computers, but not users
– A survey of 2000 adults, only 18% could
use a bus schedule to find the time of
departure, but 97% could read a
newspaper and 96% could manage bank
deposit slip. Why?
• Vice presidents are not users
– Get promoted to vice president because
of their managerial and decision-making
skills, not because their design skills

Usability slogans (contd.,)
• Less is more
– If everything is there, then everybody
is satisfied?
– “Fatware”
• Details matter

Help Does’nt
• Poor user interface does not get user
friendly even by the addition of a
brilliant help system
• Better if users can operate the
system without having to refer to a

UE is process
• Result Vs Process
• What makes an interface good?
• Conflicting guidelines
• UE process is well established and
applies equally to all user interface
• Each project is different, user
interface is different but the
activities needed to arrive at a good
result are fairly constant 11
Discount UE
• “the best is the enemy of the good”
• Achieving “the good” with respect to
having some UE work performed
• Result may not be the absolutely
“best” method and will not
necessarily give perfect results
• More careful methods are more

Discount UE
• Based on 4 techniques:
– User and task observation
– Scenarios
– Simplified thinking aloud
– Heuristic evaluation

User and task
• Simple visits to customer locations
• Observer users, keep quiet, and let
the users work as they normally
would without interference

• Cheap kind of prototype
• Paper mock-ups
• Simple prototyping environments not
complex prototyping using advanced

Simplified thinking aloud
• One test user
• Think out loud -verbalizing their
• No videotaping, psychologists or user
interface experts
• Data analysis based on notes
• Recording, watching and analyzing is

Heuristic Evaluation
• Large numbers of usability guidelines
• Discount UE-10 rules
– Simple and natural dialogue
– Speak the users language
– Minimize the users’ memory load
– Consistency
– Feedback
– Clearly marked exits
– Shortcuts
– Good error messages
– Prevent errors
– Help and documentation
Action (5-step plan)
• From a management perspective
1. Recognize the need for usability
2. Make it clear that usability has
management support
3. Devote specific resources to UE
4. Integrate systematic UE activities
5. Make sure that all user interfaces are
subjected to user testing

Action (1-step plan)
• If you think this 5-step plan is too
– Pick one of your existing user
interfaces. Subject it to a simple user
test by defining some typical test tasks,
getting hold of a few potential
customers who have not used the
system before, and observing them as
they try performing the tasks with the
– No problems-lucky otherwise get rid of
them in the next release