Designing for use provides products which are used immediately with ease and learned without tears; products that are useful, comfortable, creative, intuitive and powerful. The most easy-to-use products are those that people don’t notice.

So, what is design?

A dictionary definition of design is as follows:

Design is: to work out the structure or form of something, as by making a sketch, outline, pattern or plan; to plan and make something artistically or skilfully; to form or conceive in the mind, invent, create; a plan, sketch, or preliminary drawing; a coherent and purposeful pattern, as opposed to chaos; a finished artistic or decorative creation.

It turns out design is the process of creating an artefact with structure or form which is well-planned, artistic, coherent, useful and purposeful. Here is a simple test that you can always try to see how well your project does. For each statement below, score it between 1 and 7. 1 is strongly disagree, 7 is strongly agree.

  • My project is lacking a clear purpose.
  • My project is lacking a clear usefulness to the user.
  • My project is lacking a clear structure or form.
  • My project is un-artistic.
  • My project is inconsistent or not coherent.
  • My project is not planned.
  • My project is delivering after one design, build cycle.

The higher the score, the greater your need to focus on what the use of your project is and what good design is.

What is usability?

Usability refers to how usable a system is from a user’s point of view. Usability is being able to do the things you want to, not the things you have to. When you see people struggling to use a product, doing things they have to in order to do things they want to, you know that you see badly designed products. Donald A.Norman gives many example in his book. He provides examples of everyday products however usability is not only about presentation, but a whole exchange that forms human-computer interaction. Usability is the way of creating great interaction (communication) between two actors, the multimedia web application and the human user. The purpose is to provide efficient, effective and satisfying outcomes for all the stakeholders (anyone who has a stake in the design) for example customers, designers, business, marketing etc. We need to identify and understand both the users’ requirements and the organisation’s goals, and design a usable and useful product for both. Usability can be measured against a number of attributes:

  • Learnability: the system should be easy to learn, so the user can quickly get some work done.

  • Efficiency: once users learned the system, they should be able to use it productively.

  • Memorability: the system should be easy to remember, so the casual user is able to use the system again without having to relearn everything.

  • Errors: the system should have a low error rate, so the users feel they make progress and are in control, and if they do make errors they should be able to recover from them easily. No catastrophic error.

  • Satisfaction: the system should be pleasant to use, so users would be satisfied when using it.

  • Control: users feel they are in control rather than the system controlling them.

  • Skills: users feel that the system supports, supplements and enhances their skills and expertise, it has respect for users.

  • Privacy: the system helps users to protect information belonging to them or their clients.

  • Usefulness: the value that users place on the system, product. How useful is to them.

Worth to read Ben Schneidermann’s book about Designing the user interface.

Why design for use?

User-centered design has the following benefits beside cost benefit:

  • Increased usefulness: the more useful your product is, the greater the acceptance and the greater the desire the users have to use it.

  • Increased efficiency: helps users work in the way they want to rather than suffering with a poorly designed product.

  • Improved productivity: users are more effective and efficient, concentrating on the job rather than the user interface.

  • Fewer errors: much of human errors can be the result of a badly designed user interface. Truly understanding the way the users are aware of what they see, how they understand it and how they will act can reduce human error.

  • Reduced training time: consistency, support and reinforcement in a user-sensitive manner can reduce learning time.

  • Improved acceptance: a quickly accepted interface leads to a product that users trust and enjoy using. Enjoyment reduces stress and reduces the chance of rejection.

Every project is different and unique but all requires a well-planned, great user-focused design. So we know by now good design is: the process of making visions come true; makes the business visible to its customers; satisfies both business’ and users’ needs and visions. I’d recommend to read the source from John Cato.