Can I use it? Evaluating Usability through Quick-UX.

user-useit The first of the 3 primary components of Quick-UX, of which I will be discussing in greater depth, is the one of Usability. Put simply, Usability is a measure of how easy something is to use.

In sticking with the primary goals of Quick-UX (quick assessment for summary, directional guidance, and quantitative comparison) the variables constituting the minimal representative subset for Usability are…

  • Accessibility,
  • Consistency,
  • Recognition,
  • Navigation, and
  • Page Load Time.

Accessibility

Accessibility is the measure of how many differently skilled/abled types of people (including individuals with disabilities) in varying locations (e.g. mobile web) can make use of a given product. There exist many, very thorough, guidelines for determining the degree to which a product adheres to accepted accessibility standards. However, many can be very complex and time-consuming, also requiring the study of a good deal of the underlying code — much of which goes against the goals of the ‘quick’ part of Quick-UX.

I use a robust (and free) proxy for quickly assessing a product’s Accessibility through the use of the Functional Accessibility Evaluator (fae) link. The fae’s resultant scores are averages which, in turn, are normalized to a range from zero to one to represent the value for Quick-UX‘s Accessibility variable.

Consistency

Consistency is a fundamental component of Usability. The less learning a new user has to do to use a product the more usable is that product. Products should not have multiple interface elements, page layouts, or content that are used for the same purposes, but vary depending on how the user got their or where they are currently looking.

For example, if the product/site is in the travel industry and the site often references ‘travel search engines,’ a consistency that can grow confusing (inconsistent) is when the language that describes the same engines varies from instance to instance, from ‘engines’ to ‘tse’s,’ to ‘search travel engines,’ etc.

The determining of the value for the Consistency variable is done through the brief surveying of the product, and assigning a…

  • 1 if there are no apparent inconsistencies,
  • 0.5 if only minor, non-intrusive inconsistencies are found,
  • 0 if there exist inconsistencies on major element(s) or a majority of minor elements. Inconsistencies on major elements lead to immediate confusion and second guessing information being conveyed.

Recognition

The measure of the Recognition and intuitiveness of a product conveys how easily an average user of a product can immediately grasp how to use it. When evaluating this Usability variable remember… YOU are NOT an AVERAGE user. The Recognition variable is assessed from the perspective of an average user and is assigned a value of…

  • 1 if the interface and product, in general, feels familiar and is easy to use,
  • 0.5 if some poking, finesse, and interaction are required before the user will be able to gather his or her bearings in the use of the product,
  • 0 if the average user will have clear difficulty understanding (1) how to use the product and (2) what the product is trying to communicate.

Navigation

Evaluating the Navigation variable as it relates to Usability (and Quick-UX) also includes, in addition to site navigation, the review of the site’s flow, transitions, interactivity, and clear communication of progress. If a user can’t figure out how to get from point A to point B, or is not presented with clear information as to how he or she got to point C or that there remain points D through Z to still travel, the overall Usability of the product can be sorely damaged.

The Navigation variable is assigned the value of…

  • 1 if the product presents a straightforward decision process, leveraging animated transitions when appropriate, providing clear feedback, and communicating progress within each multi-stage task,
  • 0.5 if the two following conditions are met:
  1. occasional, but easily correctable, mis-steps in accomplishing tasks and/or completing processes occur, and
  2. there exists a visible current progress indicator for all multi-step tasks,
  • 0 if any of the following scenarios occurs with frequency:
    • resultant Interaction or other resultant event occurs contrary to the desired decision path,
    • surprised by result of interaction, or
    • no communication of progress, flow, or navigation.

Page Load Time

There are some products out there (Twitter comes to mind) that could not possibly have an easier to use interface coupled with a simpler purpose (to say what you are doing) that are frequently rendered barely, or completely, unusable due to entirely unacceptable product responsiveness.

A company can have the best product around, but if the pages are too sluggish, they can achieve a real pain-point in the overall user experience, rendering a product unusable.

Assessing the Page Load Time variable requires very little of your time. However, I do recommend you average at least a few data points over the course of a day, or days, to make sure you have an accurate sense of the normal product responsiveness.

  • If the product typically loads the information promptly (within acceptable expectations) then the Page Load Time variable is assigned the value of 1.
  • If the product exhibits the occasional, inconsistent delay, use 0.5.
  • And, if the product (like Twitter, at the current moment) has frequent and long delays (including outages) the value for Page Load Time variable is 0.

Usability. Quickly. Done.

The quantitative assessment of these variables are structured to provide a quick and painless method of evaluation to form a summary, directional guidance, and/or values that facilitate inter-product comparisons through the answering of the basic question…

Can I use it?

When answers to the above question of Usability is combined with…

Should I use it? (Usefulness)

Do I want it? (Desirability)

… the result is a product’s overall, repeatable, quantitative assessment of User eXperience.

Enjoy! (and discuss)

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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About Jeremy Horn

Jeremy Horn is an award-winning, product management veteran with thirteen years of experience leading and managing product teams. Jeremy has held various executive and advisory roles, from founder of several start-ups to driving diverse organizations in online services, consumer products, and social media. As founder of The Product Group, he has created the largest product management meetup in the world and hosts the annual awarding of The Best Product Person. Jeremy can currently be found pioneering the next generation of content management and sharing at Viacom, acting as creator and instructor of the 10-week product management course at General Assembly, and mentoring at Women 2.0 and Lean Startup Machine. Follow Jeremy on twitter @theproductguy or his blog at http://tpgblog.com.

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