20 February, 2009

How should Usability be imbedded into all phases of development?

Usability is often only considered during the final user acceptance phase. Usability design needs to be imbedded throughout the development process. The following are thoughts on achieving this:

• ISO has a set of standards on usability. The concepts in the standards should be included in the development processes.
• Educate, educate, educate. Usability design should not only be an essential part of IT education but should also be covered in MBA courses so that all stakeholders understand the benefits.
• Use examples to show the benefits. Show all the stakeholders examples of good and bad usability to ensure buy-in by the whole team. The most effective examples may come from running usability tests against existing systems that the stakeholders are familiar with.
• Gather usability requirements at the beginning of the project and include them in any requirements' definition.
• Include usability testing at the ‘paper' prototype phase and all subsequent phases. Usability is not just about the screen design it is about the complete process flow.
• Include usability experts on the team. The experts should be used to ensure that all aspects of usability are covered and that common pitfalls are avoided; however responsibility for usability must remain with the whole team.
• Provide tools for managing, running and reporting on usability tests. Automated test tools should be included; they can highlight bad coding that can impact usability. However, the main tools must enable usability testing with real users.
• The results of usability testing must be presented to all the interested parties. A usability issue may be alleviated by a simple change to the screen design but it may point to a more basic problem that can be resolved by a change in the process. A process change needs the business to be involved and not just IT.
• The usability test reports must be usable. The reports must be organised so that they are understandable and usable by all the stakeholders.
• Usability design and testing must continue into production. Analysis of usage patterns, feedback from live users and further usability test on the live system may identify new usability issues. The new issues may be caused by changes in usage, changes in user population, addition of new functions, and maintenance of existing functions, none of which could have been picked up during the development phase testing.

The inclusion of usability design and testing into the development cycle need not be difficult and will enhance the user experience and the overall benefit of the solution.