Usability deals with ergonomics of interactive tools and applications. In the Internet, the term usability is usually used in reference to ergonomics of e-commerce web sites and user applications. In their case, usability’s focus is on: intuitive navigation, making it easier for a user to browse the site in search for the information, and easy-to-grasp communication.
The term usability appears often in the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) context.
One of the first advocates of usability, Jakob Nielsen, writes about its five most important elements:
Learnability – how easy it is for the users to perform a basic task during their first contact with an e-commerce web site?
Efficiency – how quickly does a user who has already known the web site perform the tasks?
Memorability – how quickly a user can reach proficiency in using the e-commerce web site after not having visited it for a longer time?
Errors – how many errors do the users make, how they are communicated and in what time and how can the users solve them?
Satisfaction: Do the users like to use the e-commerce web site?
The tests done by Empirix in 2006 showed that 91% of the users gives up after trying to performs a given task three times at maximum. Imagine that you are just losing a client in your e-store because he or she could not understand that they had to register to place an order.
According to the same study, 36% of the users declare that they will not go into business with a firm that has failed a given user’s expectations on the Internet. Imagine that your potential client cannot find a description of one of your services on your web site. Empirix also reveals that 20% of the users declare that negative experiences online connected with a firm motivated them to resign from further cooperation with it.
The whole story with conventions starts when an interaction designer delivers his or her work (prototypes, interactive wireframes and mockups, documentation, or something like this) to a graphic designer. I currently work with a couple of e-commerce web graphics and they all perfectly understand that what they are doing is an applied art. We want it to be beautiful, alluring and pleasant but it has to be useful, first of all. It has to perform its function. Sometimes, we choose the compromise and use something which lies somewhere in between, sometimes a perfect synergy is achieved and we create something truly beautiful and useful at the same time. In your everyday work, you have to be ready for frequent consultations with the graphic designers, though. If you do not like to communicate, you should not deal with interaction designing.
Let’s come back to conventions so that I can present you some of them. A convention is placing a web site’s logo in the upper left corner. The logo is usually clickable and leads to the home page. Highlighting the elements of the text which are clickable is also a convention. Change of colors of the already-visited links is another useful convention. Even the term of the shopping cart is a convention in e-commerce.
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