Despite having roots in Cognitive Science, the term usability began to be used in the early 1980s, mainly in the fields of Psychology and Ergonomics, as a replacement for the term “user-friendly”.
According to ISO 9241-11, usability is the capacity of a product to be used by specific users to achieve specific goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction, and in a specific context of use.
Usability is a quality of use, which means it’s defined or measured for a given context in which a system is operated. Thus, a system may provide good usability for experienced users but poor usability for beginners, or vice versa; or it may be easy to use if used sporadically but difficult to operate frequently.
What does a system need to have good usability?
For a system to have good usability, it must meet the following requirements: be easy to learn, be efficient to use, be easy to remember, have few errors, and be subjectively satisfying.
According to the software usability criteria listed in technical literature, the following requirements are mainly noted:
- Ease of learning: the system should be easy to learn so that the user can quickly explore it and perform the desired tasks with it.
- Efficiency of use: the system should be efficient to the point that the user, having learned how to interact with it, achieves high levels of productivity in performing his tasks.
- Ease of recall: after a certain period without using it, the infrequent user is able to return to the system and perform his tasks without the need to relearn how to interact with it.
- Low error rate: in a system with a low error rate, the user is able to perform tasks without major inconvenience, recovering from errors, if they occur.
- Subjective satisfaction: the user finds the interaction with the system pleasant and feels subjectively satisfied with it.
Thus, for a software’s usability to be considered good, simply having a pleasant interface, subjectively satisfying the user, is not enough. It has to meet the requirements of efficiency, ease of learning, memorization, and low error rate, besides being accessible by anyone, regardless of their limitations.
It’s extremely important for software engineering to focus on quality, which is precisely the basis of the layer, as we can see in the image below.
Developing a project is about designing and using all the tools available to improve the final product, because any kind of failure will result in higher costs and weariness. It’s important to know the methods that will be used, the time spent on each activity, how the project will be developed, and above all else to focus on the base of the pyramid and always have the best product to offer.
Software quality must be guaranteed by the entire team involved in the project, who will be responsible for creating sets of activities and metrics to help supervise and control the excellence of the final product. These are important items to ensure greater perfection in the elaboration of each phase of the project as well as the delivery on time, without worrying about not meeting the expectations of the end-user.
To provide software quality and ensure appropriate standards, ISO/IEC 9126-1 describes a quality model for software products, consisting of internal quality, external quality, and quality of use.
Internal quality evaluates internal characteristics of software quality that are usually only perceived by the developers. External quality, on the other hand, evaluates characteristics that can be perceived by the development team from the user’s point of view.
On its turn, the quality of use is evaluated in its final environment and perceived through the combination of the six quality characteristics of a software product. Its main objective is the evaluation of how well the software features meet the users’ needs. This quality is analyzed according to four characteristics:
- Efficiency: the ability of the software product to enable the user to achieve specific goals such as completeness, in a specific context of use;
- Productivity: the ability of the software product to allow its users to use an appropriate amount of resources in relation to the effectiveness achieved in a specific context of use;
- Safety: the ability of the software product to present acceptable levels of risk of harm to people, business, software, property, or the environment in a specific context of use;
- Satisfaction: the ability of the software product to satisfy users in a specific context of use.
We can cite other ways and forms to evaluate and land at an acceptable software quality, but in general, quality should be achieved by checking each of the characteristics such as functionality, reliability, usability, efficiency, maintainability, and portability, always keeping the focus on the processes and following development standards.
Given the large volume of information available today, software usability is increasingly being treated by many companies as a strategic point to win new consumers/customers. The fact is:
– If a system is complicated for the user to operate, what good is it for?
It’s essential to keep in mind that a system being developed is not meant for the programmers or analysts to use, but rather to make the end-users’ tasks more agile and efficient.
At Neomind, as a software development company, we have a qualified team to always seek the quality of our products, always taking the final experience of our clients as a starting point and main requirement.
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