[Reading Reflection] Pervasive Usability: What and How?

This week’s reading comes from Designing Web Sites that Work: Usability For the Web, chapter 1 (Pervasive Usability: Usability throughout the design process).

This book could be used as an important supplement of Cooper’s About Face 3, as it covers the content corresponding to Chapter 1~Chapter 7 of Cooper’s, but emphasizes more heavily on the usability methods part rather than broader goal-directed design principles. With the whole book aiming for integrating usability into web design process, the first chapter gives us an overview of how usability should be carried out during web development, which they named “pervasive usability”.

The first topic being covered in this chapter is a brief summary of usability methods, dividing into two broad categories: real data from real users and those gathered without users. This topic will be further talked in detail when it comes to description of each methods in later chapters.

The authors then talked about the design process, which they refer to as “pervasive usability process”. In this part, authors underscored the importance of having evaluation at different stages of design, and integrating other usability methods into every stage of process. So we could see their points of how to make usability “pervasive”: at each stage you will involve usability methods such as interviews, focus groups, and task analysis; after each stage, you will go through evaluation “to ensure that the design is on track to satisfy the goals of the design” (Designing Web Sites that Work: Usability For the Web, p15).

The Pervasive Usability Process

The Pervasive Usability Process

In the third part, authors came to the practical issue of project management regarding integrating usability into project plan. This is my favorite part of this chapter, since it opens my eyes to a realistic and critical aspect affecting the success of user-centered design. In order to save usability from being cut off when time conflict or budget conflict happens, it is essential to understand tradeoffs and plan the resources well beforehand. As the author classified, there are mainly three critical resources: money, people, and time. For budget planning, this chapter introduced using a spreadsheet as a good approach. Remember to contain hours needed for each stage, slack time cost, as well as evaluation in the budget planning. Staff planning is closely related to schedule planning, since it is essential to have the right people available at certain stages, while multiple projects might be going on at the same time. The following figure (Designing Web Sites that Work: Usability For the Web, p27) is an interesting standpoint to think about resource arrangement for projects.

Staffing by Project Stages

Staffing by Project Stages

Finally, the author introduced the framework to choose different usability methods throughout the design process. There are several key attributes being considered in this framework: (1) Is it a required task? Non-required task might be omitted if any resource conflict happens, but might lead to product failure. (2) Time to perform the method. A usability method could take as little as 10 minutes, or as long as several months; choose feasible one according to your schedule planning. (3) Costs. Of course, choose one affordable and cost effective for certain stage. (4) Learning time. Extra time should be planned if usability specialists have no experience with this method. (5) Confidence level. We have to take the risk of getting misleading information into account. (6) Impact on final design: the earlier the stage, the greater the impact on final design. As you could see, choosing a “good” usability method is a multi-attribute decision making — which is hard. Maybe eventually, there is no an absolute “good” choice but rather a “suitable” choice, given the budget, staff, and time constrains. But it is always useful to keep these important aspects in mind when making the decision.

I am eager to see more details about how to penetrate these usability methods in each web develop stages in the next chapters.

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