Try holding your breath for as long as it takes your homepage to load. - Tony Karp, Art and the Zen of Web Sites
What is usability?
There is an evolution that takes place whenever people use something.
Imagine the world passing a brick around from hand to hand. Over time, its edges soften until it's a smooth, rounded stone. An optimal shape has formed by being used and the brick has now "adapted" to an ideal shape for further travel among human hands.
Usability is all about harnessing this evolutionary process.
Another example - imagine you're an architect. You've got to lay down some paths for the interior courtyard of an office block complex. In deciding where to put them, you may try to take into consideration a mass of human variables, such as:
- where are the building's most common entry and exit points?
- which is the shortest route to the cafeteria from popular exit points?
- are certain large companies likely to liaise - and what's the best route between them?
It's a daunting task until you let the problem solve itself. A practical solution might be to lay no paths, just sand. After a few months, you could return to lay down paths in the tracks people had created.
When people use something, it becomes distilled, until you're left with a refined essence. Sometimes an even more surprising magic arises when that essence has found application beyond its creator's imagining - just like a successful evolutionary mutation.
- Don't Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug
- Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed by Jakob Nielsen and Marie Tahir
- Building Accessible Websites by Joe Clark
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