Sunday, January 20, 2013

Usable Usability Across Virtual and Physical Spaces

Books on usability often focus on either software and web usability or usability in the physical world. In many cases services people use span the two. Physical objects often have a software component and many interactions span physical and virtual spaces. You need to consider usability not only in the context of the thing you are working on, but in the context of the system the person is interacting with. In other words, rather than thinking about the user experience for an application, it's worth thinking about the user experience for a service. Eric Reiss's book, Usable Usability: Simple Steps for Making Stuff Better provides you information to understand usability implications of web design, physical design, situations when the two intersect.

While any one book can't fully cover everything you need to know about usability across these spaces, Reiss does a great job job giving an overview of the issues, and pointers for more information Usable Usability: Simple Steps for Making Stuff Better reminds me of Donald Norman's Psychology of Everyday Things (newer editions being called The Design of Everyday Things).

The principles of good web design are not that different from good design of physical objects. There are many cases when a user experience spans the two; you may start a transaction online, ask for help on a phone call, and complete the transaction is a physical store.

This is a very readable, entertaining, book which weaves stories of his experiences with both bad and good usability, with actionable advice to help you understand both general principles of usability and specific guideline to employ when designing interfaces. The humorous stories of the effects of poor design will help you to remember what not to do, and the simplicity of the examples of good design will inspire you to aim higher in your projects. This book is especially worth a read if you are building
 software applications or services that have both a software and concrete component.

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