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Reducing Training to Its Sensible Minimum: Zero...
Inexpensive, Independent Usability Consulting by Jack Bellis
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No copyright is claimed. Edit this document to incorporate your own concerns about usability, replace the signature with your own, and post it prominently, preferably with the title image.

The Goal of Usability

We hold this truth to be still obscure… that the mandate of software usability is to reduce the need for training to zero. Though the overall goal of usability consists of equal parts learnability and facility, the limiting factor in software acceptance is not its speed and power, but its accommodation to those who must learn to use it. That is the task and expertise of the usability community, to help deliver systems that incorporate the entire training burden. While the pressure to produce products immediately and with limited resources is inescapable, so too is the competitive force ensuring that the prevailing products will be those that are self-training.

The Tenets of Usable Design

Usability starts with and consists substantially of simple, age-old communication principles painstakingly evolved over 1500 years of producing the printed word:

  1. Communicate explicitly, actively, precisely, and accurately. The first law of usability is explicitness. Don’t require the user to translate, decode, search, or infer.
  2. For all software usability problems, even many hardware problems, non-architectural solutions—often simple text changes—can give users what they need. Don’t compound problems with more technology.
  3. Provide both training for new users and ultimate facility for those users once they become experienced, without compromising either objective. Provide both character-based manipulation and step-through dialogs.
  4. Provide all historical affordances and functions; don’t start over. Use frameworks.
  5. Present the more general items and earlier steps toward the top and left. Promote broader or more important items and demote more specific items.
  6. Group like items and segregate unlike items.
  7. When in doubt, provide multiple ways to access functions.
  8. Provide all sort orders for all information.
  9. When consistency provides guidance, use it. When it is a hobgoblin, use distinctiveness to its advantage.
  10. When conventions apply, use them. When they do more harm than good, be creative.

The Software Users' Bill of Rights

  1. We shouldn't have to read a manual to use mass market software. For business software, the most we should have to read is a booklet on the theory of operation.
  2. We should be able to accomplish every task and entry with the fewest possible keystrokes. We shouldn’t have to enter 4-digits for the year. And 8,000 years from now we shouldn’t have to enter five digits.
  3. We should be able to do things in whatever order we want. When it’s not the order that is needed, the computer should direct us through the necessary order.
  4. We should be able to make mistakes without being terminated, executed, canceled, re-booted, or erased.
  5. We should be able to see and understand why the program does what it does.
  6. We expect the computer to communicate with us actively and noticeably, not implicitly or subtly.
  7. We expect all of what we type into the computer to be saved, by default.
  8. We expect to be forewarned when any work is over-written, undone, or erased.
  9. We expect to have most of our work retained after the power is interrupted.
  10. We expect supporting information to provide explanations and examples,not just what keys to press, and to concentrate on exceptions and problems.

Implementing Usability

  1. Usability must be included as a role on all software projects and owned by a specific individual. It does not have to be full-time role and need not be on all but the largest projects.
  2. The usability role should answer directly to the highest possible level of product management, so that quality goals are side-by-side with cost and time.
  3. The Users Bill of Rights should be accessible from the About function on all software projects.
  4. The statement should be included on product packaging and literature that "This product endeavors to deliver the full capability promised by the Software Users' Bill of Rights."

Jack Bellis, 2004-Jan-03

No copyright is claimed. Edit this document to incorporate your own concerns about usability, replace the signature with your own, and post it prominently, preferably with the title image.

"My interest in usability arose from the pain and tears of patching the wounds of suffering interface designs with the inadequate bandages of help files and user guides." — Daniel Cohen

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