Leading usability and accessibility consultants System Concepts Ltd says the first World Usability Day has highlighted how far there is still to go to make products and technology usable by their intended users.

At a special Open House held to mark the day at the company’s London headquarters, joint managing director Tom Stewart said that although progress continued to be made, the majority of users still had to put up with “too much hassle” on a daily basis.

“We have to stop accepting blatantly bad design,” he commented. “It’s time to get really angry about poor usability and demand that the people who design and supply products and services adopt a far more user centred approach.”

Mr Stewart said that while there were examples of progress in this area – he cited the success of the iconic I-pod as being largely down to the usability of the device, especially the click wheel interface and I-tunes – there were still many instances where end-users have not been taken in consideration.

“Very often the problem is that products are not tested out with real users before being launched,” he pointed out. “That is why we are subjected to such horrors as phones with keys too small for a six year old, the video with an instruction manual the size of a small encyclopaedia and unopenable packaging.”

In addition, a recent study of marketing directors by e-consultancy has found that most of them had no idea about usability or its importance is ensuring that their websites actually delivered business benefit.

Mr Stewart emphasised that usability is not simply about making products easy to use – effectiveness and efficiency are more important.

“This approach to usability and accessibility involves focusing on what users are trying to do with the product and making sure it delivers results without requiring us to be rocket scientists or contortionists,” he explains. “It doesn’t necessarily need to be easy – it depends on what we are doing. I am prepared to happily invest far more effort into using the web when planning a complex journey across the country than I am to check my current account balance.”

Mr Stewart said his views were not an attack on the design industry. “There is of course much excellent creative talent at work here. The point of World Usability Day is to encourage design, engineering and marketing people to adopt a user centred mindset. And I am not alone in these views. No less a figure than George Cox, the Chairman of the Design Council has argued passionately that design should put the users at the heart of the process. “




Published on: 12:00AM on 8th November 2005