is supported in part by

April 27, 2003

on usability

while cleaning out my email i found this old response to an interviewer for the now defunct cre@te online. he asked me what i thought of jacob nielson's 99% bad article (told you it was old...). here's what i wrote:

ah, you know, i'm not that interested in it and i don't really have any formal usability expertise. i'd rather not make an official statement...but as far as i'm concerned, usability is a habit, not a hard set of rules. it's about behavioural patterns, not correctness. if i'm the first person to walk across a field, i blunder through tall grass. if i'm the 500th person, i follow the path that others have created because it's the most usable way to traverse the field. the people's use of the environment forms a collective habit. if someone makes a paved road around the field that's longer than the path, you can call it the "correct way to cross the field", but most people will still use the path. in other words, usability evolves naturally...all you have to do is observe the patterns, document them, and implement them if you want the majority of users to have an easy time with your content. hence, most sites use a familiar textbox-with-go-button for searching. most doors have a knob at a standard height that opens the door in a predicatble way. but these patterns are not "right", they're just the most common solution to a particular problem. for proof, take an american to europe and ask her to turn on the lights...the light switch is different, and probably unusable for the american, but perfectly usable to the european. but once the american understands the system, the habit forms, and it's usable to both. "usable" isn't inhernet in a technology, it's a correspondence between a tool and the habits of the person that uses the tool. furthermore, "easy to use" isn't even a goal of many expressions on the web. sure it's important and worth discussing if you're selling books or staplers to the masses, but that's not really a keen interest of mine. i'm not really sure what all the fuss is about.

remember, most automatic bank teller machines have the worst interfaces in the world, and yet, everyone uses them happily every day because they want what's inside--so they form a habit to get it. once they cross the field a few times, the path forms...

Posted by moock at April 27, 2003 07:41 PM