“Making Life Easy,” the message of World Usability Day on November 14, appears to have connected. Organized by the Usability Professionals’ Association (UPA) and allied organizations, the day prompted scores of related events around the world. Many news releases on or about Nov 14 suggest manufacturers and other bodies were already open to the idea.
On October 30, with World Usability Day in view, United States Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt announced the publication of the 2006 edition of the “Research-Based Web Design & Usability Guidelines.” Published in partnership with the US General Services Administration, the resource covers home page design, page and site navigation, graphics and images, Web content organization and effective Web content. Secretary Leavitt said the guidelines are aimed at improving the ways citizens interact with Government.
In 2006 usability is a big word in the Microsoft lexicon and was a theme in Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates’ keynote address at Convergence 2006 EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) on November 6-8 in Germany. He told company representatives and others that Microsoft Dynamics business management solutions “are combining Microsoft software and online services to make business applications more usable and businesses more productive.”
And Microsoft recently released its Internet Explorer 7, which is attracting special attention for its user-friendliness. An extensive review of the updated Web browser in The Los Angeles Times on Oct 22 reported “sweeping” improvements in its safety and usability aspects. They include the greatly reduced size of the toolbar display at the top of the page, a move that makes the browser display fill more of each Web page, as well as new features for zooming and the quick display of open pages. The reviewer also lauded the ease with which tiny type can be enlarged with a single click. And “the zoom also works on graphics,” according to the reviewer, “letting you expand photographs to expose details that are flat-out missed otherwise.”
The company Entellium, a Seattle-based developer of Customer Relationship Management software, chose World Usability Day to release two flagship software products, eSalesForce and eCustomerCenter. The company boasts that its new user interface allows navigation with greater ease because the layout has been simplified to reduce the number of clicks required to accomplish key activities.
The London-based L-Soft company introduced its LISTSERV 15.0 software a few days later, and is marketing the industrial-strength email management system on its “usability enhancements.” These include features that accommodate beginner to expert users and adjust to varying levels of hardware support.
The UseIT Survey by the Samsung Electronics, published in Britain’s IT Week on November 15, found that some companies haven’t got the usability message. It polled 2,000 office workers from a range of industries and found that a quarter said printers are the products they spend the most time trying to fix, while half said they spend up to 10 minutes a day fixing jams. The survey also found that many users suffer from physical problems because of the wrong working conditions or IT equipment. Nearly a third of workers said they suffer back pain from sitting at a monitor all day, while half said they suffer from headaches from staring at PCs.
“Technology is very sophisticated today but too often we use it to make things cheaper and faster and don’t [consider] making it easier when things don’t go to plan,” said Neil Berville, the IT divisional director at Samsung. “Too often IT departments are not thinking about usability, they are thinking about the cost drivers (when buying equipment),” he concluded.
If World Usability Day has the impact its organizers anticipate, the results of future surveys of this kind will produce more encouraging results.
Sources: Usability Professionals’ Association; US Health and Human Services; Microsoft Corp.; Los Angeles Times; Entellium; L-Soft; IT Week