Ramsden.Info - Usability

Usability - What is it good for?

Technical Writing Basics (Ramsden.info - TW.101)

What is 'usability'?  How is it measured?  How does it affect you?

In this topic, 'usability' is referring to the measure of the ease-or-difficulty of use of some thing.

Imagine you bought something like say -- a car, and tried to use it straight away without reading the user manual.  If you've ever driven a car before, you'd have a pretty good idea what to do without having to further refer to any user manual that may (or may not) have come with the car.  Minor differences between cars like the location of: the headlights switch, or the parking brake, or even the window washer bottle; may cause some temporary concern until those items were identified and found, however, shouldn't prevent you or any user (inexperienced with that particular model), from performing the basic functions of driving that car (assuming they've driven a car before, too). 

This ease of use (without specific instruction) is what we're referring to here as 'usability'.  Or put more positively, it is the ability to use something easily, that determines its 'ease of use'.  By implication, usability also involves a measure of 'difficulty of use'.  If you've ever tried to setup a video tape recorder to record something at a future time, you've experienced first-hand, the difficulties of such an endeavour, and the difficulty of use of that product.  (Unfortunately, some video recorder functions are classically so user-unfriendly, as to be termed user-hostile!)

It doesn't take Einstein to realize that products that are easier to use than those that are not, should succeed over their rivals.  So as stated in the first paragraph, 'usability', in the context of this discourse, is referring to the measure of the ease-or-difficulty of use of some thing. 

There are many books written about usability (mostly with an engineering slant), either from the point of view of design and manufacture of some physical object (like a door handle or knob), to the practicalities of a virtual object, (like an online form or software dialog screen).  This subject matter is too diverse to give adequate justification in this topic alone, however, the principals that apply to one, may also apply to others, and are hopefully given due consideration here.  See References.

Here's the sales pitch - "Do you make a product that is so user-friendly that it requires no instructions whatsoever?"  Congratulations if you think so, and can we publicize it here (on the web) as a shining example for every else to strive for?  Even something as simple as a doorknob comes with a picture and instructions showing how it should be installed. Somebody had to create that picture and write those instructions.  Most likely, it was a technical writer.  That's what we do.  We're technical writers, illustrators and authors.  If you require the services of a technical writer, please consider us


If you feel a strong enough conviction to comment on the opinions expressed in this topic, please contact the author with your view by email, or by post.  The author of this topic is Australian and uses Australian spelling, grammar and locale date settings.