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A seminar on 'Building professional image through website - Emerging trends and unknown techniques' was held by Prime Point Foundation on 27th July 2002 at Hotel Palmgrove, Madras, India.

Usability explained - Mr S Kiruba Shankar

What is Usability?

There are many different definitions of usability, but basically any product that has good usability exhibits these 6 characteristics:

1. Quick and easy to learn,
2. Efficient to use,
3. Allows rapid recovery from errors,Mr S Kiruba Shankar, Web Usability expert
4. Easy to remember,
5. Enjoyable to use,
6. Aesthetically pleasing.

On the net, this means designing an intuitive user interface and populating the site with interesting and relevant content that is easy to find and simple to navigate around.

This sounds obvious and straightforward but unfortunately there is no 'cook-book' approach to ensuring usability. This is because each site has a different business objective and a different target audience. Therefore each site must be purposefully designed at each stage with the wants, needs and expectations of the users as a priority whilst ensuring that it is delivering the business objectives.

To successfully achieve this, input from real users should be evaluated at every stage during the design process - planning, prototyping, final product testing, revisions and updates. However, it's not too late even for live, established, sites to set about improving usability.

Benefits of Usability

Increased usability benefits both the user and the web site provider.

Users:

  • Experience satisfaction instead of frustration when interacting with the site.
  • Achieve their goals effectively and efficiently.
  • Gain confidence and trust in a valuable resource.

When customers are happy they continue to use the site and become advocates, enhancing the reputation and user base of the site.

Providers:

Save money through:

  • Efficient design - employ valuable resources to add value, not frills.
  • Fewer revisions - avoid changing the site each time a new browser or plug-in is released.
  • Reduction of support costs - unusable sites require costly telephone or e-mail support, or user training.
  • Increased productivity - intranet users retrieve or post information efficiently; avoids wasting time.

Gain and retain happy loyal customers.

Increased competition on the Internet means that customer loyalty is the key to long-term success - usability delivers this. If a site fails to provide immediately what users need, the competition is only a click away.

How To Achieve Usability

No web site can claim to achieve 'ideal' usability. However, all sites can reap the benefits of increased usability by adopting a user-centered approach to site design and production.

It is best to design for usability from the outset - by allocating time and resources to the planning and development of the web project. However established sites can also dramatically improve by identifying and correcting usability problems.

Designing a site from scratch

1. Identify key drivers.

  • Research and analyse:
  • The primary purpose of the site (business objectives),
  • The intended audience, and
  • Competitor and best of breed sites.

2. Evaluate designs properly.

  • At each stage in the development cycle:
  • Designers should follow recommended usability guidelines.
  • Real and appropriate users should be consulted.
  • The site should be tested using appropriate methods of usability evaluation, e.g
  • expert usability evaluation.
  • real user testing.
  • It should be ensured that the site is delivering the business objectives.

3. Provide support for modifications and updates.

Following launch of the site:


  • Performance of the site should be monitored
  • New content and modifications should be carefully controlled
  • Redesigns should follow the same iterative process

Ultimately design for the user, but be pragmatic

A pragmatic approach should be taken in order to balance the competing requirements of style, content and functionality. These factors are not mutually exclusive; enhancing one can have positive effects on the others.

Mr S Kiruba Shankar - A Profile

Mr S Kiruba Shankar is presently the Project Fulfillment member at Satyam Infoway Limited (SIFY). His interest in all things usability has motivated him to start the Usability Professionals Group of India. He also runs the popular website http://www.NetUsability.org. Kiruba is also the head of India Macromedia User Group . Kiruba's writings on the Internet and technology have appeared in some of India's prestigious computer magazines. They can be found at www.Kiruba.com. When he is not working, Kiruba loves cycling and prefers to peddle to work. He is the captain of his company's rowing team.

He can be contacted at Kiruba@Kiruba.com

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