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Monday, June 11, 2007

Usability in Everyday Life

Usability goes beyond making Web sites easier to use. It’s also about making appliances, day-to-day activities and other things easy to use. When I use my blender, I can’t figure out why there are labels for puree, chop, frappe, crush, and so on. It’s a blender! The blades just spin around and around. The blender maybe has three noticeable speeds. This also contributes to the too many choices problem.

Those designing the menus for DVD movies have to consider usability issues, too. One poorly designed movie menu on a DVD had two buttons that appeared illegible. The font was so small no one could read it, so we selected both buttons to see what would happen.

Donald Norman discusses this in his Design of Everyday Things and Emotional Design and Jakob Nielsen covered DVD menus.

Even elevator buttons can cause problems as I covered in an old post on hospital usability. The post also referenced a school speed zone sign — these signs have another problem: The times appear too small. You’re driving a car and can’t stop or slow down enough to catch the times if the sign doesn’t come with yellow lights.

My microwave has five very clean buttons because we’ve yet to use them. We fall into habit of relying on a handful of buttons or commands that we don’t take the time to learn about the other features.

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