Exploring Usability Day: Why Usability Matters

Exploring Usability Day: Why Usability Matters
Laura Flugga
November 17, 2014
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On November 13, 2014, a few members of the Güd team, myself included, went to World Usability Day at MSU. On this day every year, usability is celebrated through more than one hundred events in 39 countries. If you're not in the technology industry you might be asking yourself, “What is usability?” It is a lot of things.

  • The single most important differentiator of digital products/apps.
  • A path to innovation (case in point: iPhone was created to solve usability issues that arose with the existing technology).
  • Or according to Google:

    “Usability is the ease of use and learnability of a human-made object. The object of use can be a software application, website, book, tool, machine, process, or anything a human interacts with.”

Since usability is a pretty broad topic, World Usability Day has a theme every year. This year it was “mobile usability.” That’s a very relevant topic, as this year more people will use mobile devices than desktop computers. Amongst the sub-topics discussed were engagement, user experience, and accessibility.

Excited to learn about these topics, we studiously sat in the front of the room, took notes, tweeted our thoughts, and planned out this blog article and a presentation to share the knowledge. Here are a few of our thoughts and some things we learned:

  • Designing and Building the User Experience
    This session by Scott Wilthew from Jackson National Life Insurance gave a good overview of where in the web/software development process User Experience (UX) should be considered. Really, UX should be a part of every step in the process, but in some more than others. UX is an integral part of evaluation, business requirements, and system design.
  • Mobile Accessibility
    Gian Wild from Accessibility Oz in Australia gave a great talk about accessibility. One of the things she said that really hit home was how inaccessible and unusable PDFs are. They are annoying for desktop users – no one wants to download a document in order to get information (that’s why we have HTML) – but on mobile it goes beyond annoying. Making users download PDFs to get information uses the limited data on their cell plan, and gives them a document that was probably formatted for an 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper to read on their handheld screen, which is probably less than a quarter of that size. #justsayno
  • Mobile First Government
    Some of the IT staff from Oakland County discussed the difference between adaptive and responsive methodologies, and how to use them together. To summarize, responsive web design (RWD) uses media queries to change the layout of a web page to fit multiple devices. In contrast, adaptive web design (AWD) uses a variety of technologies (including JavaScript) to optimize the site for multiple devices. It encompasses not just the layout but sizing of images and rearrangement of content.
  • Engaging Mobile Auto Shoppers
    When I saw this title, I didn’t think this session would be applicable to us. We don’t work with automotive clients. However, Jodi Bollaert, of MRM/McCann, shared expertise that can be applied to multiple industries, not just automotive. In particular she pointed out a trend in web design that takes the mobile three-bar collapsed menu and uses it on desktop sites. I have seen this done before, and as a user have found it annoying. Evidently it’s not just me; Jodi’s research indicates that using mobile menus on desktop sites creates usability problems.
  • Leveraging Human Behavior to Drive Engagement
    This was probably the best session of the day. Erik Wesslen from TechSmith talked about how to engage users by understanding the Hook Model and Fogg’s Behavior Model. Both of these are far too in-depth to tackle here; click the links to learn more about them. Erik also gave us a list of questions we all should be asking. So I will leave you with one: “What do users want?” If you don’t know the answer to that question, creating an engaging and usable user experience is like stabbing in the dark.

I’ve been going to the Usability Day events for about the past five years, and this year was probably the best overall. The speakers were engaging and informative, and the topics were broad. This made the event appealing to a larger audience, including those less familiar with usability. I know I really enjoyed it, and I think my colleagues did too. Learn about World Usability Day (and maybe plan on going next year) at www.worldusabilityday.org.

Written by Laura Flugga, a Web Developer at Güd Marketing from 2008 - January 2015.