Usability - as easy as A-B-D
In the interests of research, I took part in an online usability study today for a major UK news site. Usability is increasingly tagged-on as a 'oh, yes, we do that' service, but the number of true experts is still relatively few. It's an accessible subject as so much of what it teaches is common sense. Indeed, after a quick read of Jacob Nielsen's Alertbox, many feel they 'get it', but there is much, much more to learn before you can become an objective expert in what is far too often a subjective field.
All the more interesting, then, to actually 'do usability' and participate in the study. It involved sitting in front of a camera, talking into the microphone and recording your screen as I completed a number of tasks. The tasks involved basic ones, such as navigating to the 'World News, section, navigating back to the homepage, to more in-depth tasks, such as finding an article on surfing by columnist 'x' without using search.
Given how well known the site was, the series of tasks showed how easy it is to let common sense pass you by in website design as a website evolves. The best example was 'find help' where you had to find a mysteriously-named 'information' section first up, before reaching the 'help' section buried beneath. Common sense, you'd say, but as sites grow organically, it's very difficult for the people that build them to take a step back and put themselves in the user's shoes, as the real headache of managing all that content becomes apparent.