As the computing landscape evolves to include an ever more sophisticated range of products and form factors the usability of the software and websites we use is continually being reviewed and refined. A crucial component of user interface design is usability. Simply put, a user interface design with poor usability is going to frustrate users and drive them to seek alternatives as quickly as possible. Another important factor tied to usability is learnability. After all, there is always a learning curve associated with every new user interface design we come across with varying degrees of steepness.
For the longest time building a user interface design (User Interface Design, Interface Design) meant optimizing usability for one particular dimension, if I may call it that. This dimension, of course, is the venerable desktop. Nowadays there are smartphones and tablets to contend to, all of which need a unique user interface design by virtue of touchscreens and other natural user interfaces as the favored mode of input rather than, say, the mouse. This stratification of user interface designs across devices means that not every UI design element can be instantly usable. At some point users are going to have to learn how to use it. Learnability in this case means making decisions on which features to bury in advanced settings and which ones should be on the default user interface design (this is what users see when they use a website or app for the first time). There are a couple of things to consider when optimizing a website or software application’s user interface design for learnability:-
• Importance – How critical is your website or software application to a user? Users are far more likely to spend time learning a user interface design if it is crucial to their workflow, for example. One has to look no further than, say, Photoshop or Final Cut Pro. Both are complicated software applications yet everyday users spend time learning how to get the most out of the complex user interface design to fulfill their aims.
• Frequency – We humans are creatures of habit. Despite the countless number of websites and software applications out there we tend to have a core nucleus of favorites that we revisit again and again. The more we use a user interface design the more quickly we learn to use it, with each repeat visit making us use it all the more efficiently.
• Cost – The more someone pays for an application the more time they are going to invest in learning how to use it. This could have something to do with the Value Attribution theory whereby we assume something expensive is worth our investment and the resultant heightened expectations help us persevere with a user interface design longer. This, however, is no justification for charging exorbitant prices!
• Alternatives – The number, and quality, of alternative tools available to users also determines how long they spend learning a user interface design. The more unique or the higher quality inherent in your website or application the more likely users will stick by you. However, be sure to fix all usability issues before a better alternative crops up to tempt your users away.
• Simplicity – For the sake of learnability it is important to keep the default user interface design as simple as possible. Jamming every possible feature in the default user interface design only serves to make it appear to require more time to get to know. This can put off potential users who may seek a simpler solution elsewhere.
A great proponent of incorporating learnability into a user interface design is Google, which is hardly surprising considering how great user interface design (User Interface Design, Interface Design Software) has always been one of their traits. A lot of their apps have a simple default user interface design that most users can learn to use relatively easy yet there are a number of advanced features available. The Google iOS app is an example of this. When it is loaded for the first time there is a tutorial overlay that sits on top of the default user interface design giving concise introductions to the features of the app. A lot of other iOS and Android apps are similar in the way they gently provide a new user with enough information to get them comfortable with the app rather than simply letting them muddle through via trial-and-error. In effect learnability is all about how user interface designers help users to help themselves.
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