July 15, 2005 Participating in the UPA2005 Conference
- Considering Usability: Website Designs that Will Never Be Awkward-

Keiko Okada
HCD Consulting Team

The concept of usability found at Montreal

Even though Canada is an English-speaking country, the official language used in Montreal is French. The 14th UPA Conference was held amidst the international atmosphere of this city. The Usability Professionals' Association (UPA) is an international association of usability experts from a number of different countries, and our company takes part in this Association as a member and a sponsor. Participation in the Conference marked the first step of our involvement this year.

This year's Conference was entitled "Bridging Cultures," and is founded on the idea that "usability experts can function as a bridge across different cultures." We also found in Montreal some interesting policies that consider public well-being. One example is traffic lights for pedestrians. In addition to the usual red and blue (recognized as green in North America) lights, the remaining time before the blue light turns red is indicated in seconds by voice and numerals. It was a striking experience to know that the available time in seconds for pedestrians to walk across the intersection can be readily seen. The display not only enhances the ability of pedestrians to make predictions; it also helps ensure their safety.

Usability to turn "difficult-to-use" into "easy-to-use"

The word "usability" is in widespread use today, and is no longer a novel term. What is important for usability, be it product usability or website usability, is to have the position of understanding users. It is essential to design products based on the perspective of users and to verify the outcomes from users' standpoints.

Since our company is mainly concerned with website usability, it was interesting to learn the situation regarding the usability of products and software, which were the major topic of the Conference. The basic concept of usability, irrespective of whether the product in question is a mobile phone or a website, seems to be common for any field or country. To recognize the inconvenience that has caused problems for users and to offer usability that can solve the problem: that is the role to be played by experts in usability. To arrive at usability, we need to recognize what situations cause problems in use.

Taking steps to prevent users from experiencing that cumbersome feeling

Perhaps accompanying the increase in awareness of the word "usability," there does appear to have been a recent decline in the number of websites that are extremely difficult to use. The fact that more corporate websites today recognize the need to offer usability should be welcomed, considering that behavioral principles of users, who are the visitors to websites, used to be ignored. On the other hand, there are still only a few websites that offer true usability.

As mentioned earlier, simply put, usability is a way to switch "difficult-to-use" into "easy-to-use." It is worth mentioning that even if users feel dissatisfied with something difficult-to-use, they usually do not take conscious note of something that is easy-to-use. Some even say that products and software that have been designed to be truly convenient do not require manuals. These people say such products would be designed to allow even beginner users to intuitively understand the necessary procedures. Unfortunately, it is rare to find such a product. I am not too fond of reading through enormous volumes of manuals, and I sincerely hope that the number of people who care about usability does increase.

When websites are created, there is no user manual. As a first step toward usability, maybe we could start by giving care so as not to make users feel cumbersome.

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