In case you hadn't guessed, today is World Usability Day and you may be thinking "Why are you telling me this?", "Usability is nothing new?" or even "Argh, where's the 'back' button!? I didn't mean to click this link!!".
The simple answer to these questions is: usability matters. It matters because by making something usable we immediately enable more people to use it, giving it more chance of success and ultimately enabling people to achieve their goals. In other words, by focussing on usability we can improve people's lives. This may seem a bit of an exaggeration, but this is the reality.
So why do we need a 'day' for this?
This is best answered in the official definition:
"World Usability Day is single day of events occurring around the world that brings together communities of professional, industrial, educational, citizen, and government groups for our common objective: to ensure that the services and products important to life are easier to access and simpler to use. It is about celebration and education – celebrating the strides we have made in creating usable products and educating the masses about how usability impacts our daily lives. It is about making our world work better. It is about reaching out to the common citizen and spreading the message: We don’t have to put up with products and services that don’t work well and that human error is a misnomer". Source: http://worldusabilityday.org/
By promoting usability we are driving change in the world today- we are making things better for everyone, everywhere. We have had many experiences of this in the work we do on a daily basis. One of our most memorable was whilst facilitating user research on a project with a candidate using a screen reader- to navigate a prototype we had built.
The candidate was blind and entered the room with a labrador guide dog, who sat patiently throughout the interview. Suddenly there was a pause in the flow of speech- "Wait, hold on, do you mind if I...". Something on the page had drawn attention, the course of the research was momentarily interrupted as the screenreader was navigated through some pages and dictated facts on the page. "If only I had known this..." were the words that resonated with me. We then listened intently to a compelling and emotive story detailing how much this information could have helped this person in a truly horrifying situation*.
* Specific details are withheld out courtesy and respect for candidate confidentiality.
In this case the original website wasn't accessible by default so the information wasn't obtainable when the user needed it. Our client had commissioned us to undertake a complete rebuild and we were doing this with usability in mind from the beginning. Our prototype proved the value of the information to this person, and the story we heard has stuck with us every since. Had the user been able to find the information first time, through a website with good usability, the effect on them would have transformed their situation for the better.
At Zoocha we have transformed our processes to make usability key to what we do. We strive to work in a user centred design process, this puts the user at the heart our work and leads to better, informed products. We test early and often- directly with users- to build websites that are accessible by default and provide all-round usability. By working this way we solve problems up-front and create solutions that are inclusive to all users, as well as solutions that are successful for our clients.
It's starting to become recognised by large organisations that working in this way offers a huge commercial benefit. Barclays Bank PLC is one of these organisations, and one of their ambitions is to become the most accessible and inclusive organisation in the FTSE 100. Not only is this great for them as a commercial company, but for once in this world we are seeing a global organisation paying attention to something that is morally right and will help people in their everyday lives.
It’s not all good news. Unfortunately some of the techniques and processes developed from creating good usability are being used for darker practices. Patterns have been developed to trick people into buying something, or signing up for something they didn't want. Some topical examples extend as far as political and social change through social media. These practices affect our everyday lives and are potential cause for worldwide concern. This is another reason why usability matters.
Today I recommend you to read up on usability, understand how it affects your everyday life, and everyone in this world. Read up on inclusive design (Barclays inclusive design, and also Microsoft currently have a great example, accessibility and how to gain commercial advantages through developing an accessibility business case. Be aware of dark patterns and perhaps even search 'how social media won an election and shocked the world' so you can see the extent to which this affects the world.
Right now we are seeing a huge rise in recognition of the benefits good usability brings, as well as some powerful negatives. This is driving huge change and innovation in the digital industry which is in turn is transforming the world as we know it. Our work and change is not yet done, we have a long way to go and will be forever iterating and improving the way we work. Remember in all that we do, usability matters.