Many tools and services are not user-friendly. Awkward controls, incomprehensible instructions and unintuitive layout are just a few of the factors that undermine usability. November 14 has been designated World Usability Day to promote the value of usability engineering, user-centered design, and every user’s right to ask for things that work better — or, in a single word, ergonomics.
The Earth-Day-style event is being organized by volunteers and the Usability Professionals’ Association (UPA), an international body with headquarters in the United States. On November 14 the Association and its chapters and allied organizations will hold events that revolve around the theme, “Making life easy!” The focus in 2006 is on accessibility and inclusion.
The importance of usability is not trivial, according to the UPA. It is connected to important everyday things such as education, healthcare and safety. Tools and systems that are usable are more effective in teaching students. Healthcare professionals can be more confident with safer and understandable tools providing better quality healthcare to their patients. Government institutions can rely on easy to use and understandable voting machines to insure accurate and democratic elections. Usable technology makes a difference to everyone, everywhere around the world.
As an example of usability engineering at work, the UPA notes the measures Canada’s national telephone company took on behalf of users in 1996. The company changed its bills so that all the details about charged calls and savings could be read and deciphered easily. The changes included a distinct paper format for visually impaired and elderly people. The new design resulted in the reduction of pages by 40 percent and the search time for information by customers by 30 percent.
In another of the UPA’s examples of usability engineering it is necessary to picture a simple line drawing of a tipping vehicle and a driver wearing a seat belt. The picture is instantly comprehensible to a wide number of people as a warning and underlines the nature of the danger. It replaced an almost incomprehensible text warning that read: “This is a multipurpose passenger vehicle which will handle and maneuver differently from an ordinary passenger car, in driving conditions which may occur on streets and highways and off road. As with other vehicles of this type, if you make sharp turns or abrupt maneuvers, the vehicle may roll over or may go out of control and crash. You should read driving guidelines and instructions in the Owner’s Manual, and WEAR YOUR SEAT BELTS AT ALL TIMES. ”
In 2005 the special day involved 115 events in 35 countries. The organizers anticipate more events in more countries on November 14, 2006. They invite interested professionals and members of the public to visit the UPA website for ideas on how to join in on the important mission to promote usability.
Source: Usability Professionals Association