February 6, 2014

The Top 5 Usability Mistakes

Product usability is the cornerstone of a successful app or website. To ensure that your software, website, app or whatever, can be enjoyed to the full by its users, I have compiled a list of the top five usability mistakes that you should be aware of before deploying your product.

In this article, I work my way from outside inwards, starting with problems that relate to the aesthetics of apps, the language they use, their functionality, engagement potential and, finally, actual user-involvement.

Here is the list of 5 Usability Mistakes:

1. Disregarding design principles

First impressions are crucial in determining the continued engagement of users with an app or website. Disregarding common design rules such as having an uneven alignment of information, large chunks of words, awkward placement of buttons and poor management of white space can seriously interfere with usability and diminish the quality of the user experience.

It is natural for something as subjective as good design to top the list of usability gripes that developers have to face. However, while the devil is in the details, abiding by simple principles can go a long way to ensure a harmonious and logical layout to your product.

But good design is never an end to itself, and over-doing aesthetics can be just as bad as over-looking them. The purpose of an app’s great looks is simply to pull the user in by encouraging interaction. Developers who rely on generic design or neglect to add a personal feel to the layout risk boring the user, or worse, alienating them completely.


2. Using confusing or ambiguous words and labels

If good design is the skin of your product, then all the words (copy, content, call it what like) that need to be included are its voice. Another major usability mistake is confusing or ambiguous labelling or descriptions.

Your app cannot judge how sophisticated the user is, so it must be able to communicate in as few words and as direct a manner as possible. Whilst books preach, apps reach; they reach out to the user and engage them by keeping it simple, concise and directive.

Can you understand this? No? Neither can most people, I'm sure.

Can you understand this? No? Neither can most people, I’m sure.

A common usability mistake involving the wording that appears in products is poorly labelled buttons. A user-centric approach will ensure that every button is clearly defined by the outcome that is produced when pressing it. Therefore, the ubiquitous ‘Contact Us’ can easily be swapped with ‘Send us an email’ if pressing it opens up the user’s email client rather than a page with contact details.

Another semantic blunder is the prolific use of abbreviations or peppering of text with jargon words that cannot be immediately understood by non-techies. The copy must always fit the intended audience, rather than the developer of the product.


3. Not giving users what they want

An app’s (or website, or any product’s) usability is intrinsically linked to the user’s ability to make it work. If it doesn’t do what it says on the tin, then that piece of software – your piece of software – is only a waste of precious storage space and memory on the user’s device.

There are two main types of mistakes that can be made when it comes to an app’s functionality. The first and most obvious one is a bug that interferes with the way the software was intended to work.

Offering users a buggy app is certainly one of the most serious errors that can be committed, and that’s where proper testing and bug reporting come to the rescue. An agile work methodology allows for an admittedly very minor degree of ‘unfinished-ness’ in one’s products, but it doesn’t imply getting a faulty piece of software into your client’s hands as quick as possible.

The second common functionality mistake doesn’t lie in the software but in the way the user interacts with it. If your app doesn’t direct the user to the outcome he or she desire in as few steps as possible, it risks confusing them or losing their interest in achieving the goal your app was designed to enable.

BONUS – Rickard Östberg asks why it is that so few use usability skills and lots, lots more in this incredible article.


4. Creating an impersonal and unengaging product

In a marketplace where new apps are being added all the time the way to a user’s hands is through his or her heart. A very important usability issue and one of the commonest mistakes made by developers is neglecting to add to your product a personal touch which connects emotionally with the user.

There is a sea of bland and impersonal apps out there and if you don’t want your product to rise above the crowd, you’ll need to watch out for this element of user experience. Including a friendly welcome message, congratulating the user when completing certain tasks and inviting them to try new options kick-starts the engagement process and makes the user more satisfied with the product.

Sometimes the user cannot appreciate an app’s usability until it’s explicitly shown to him or her. Omitting to take a proactive approach to pulling in your user into benefitting from what your app offers is a shortcoming that hurts your chances of increasing user engagement, as well as educating the user to the possibilities your app opens.


5. Not recruiting the user as your ultimate source of feedback

Finally, top usability mistake number five is leaving the user out in the cold. Whilst it’s understandably that as a developer you take great pride in your creations, it is the user who gets to unfold their potential. Usability depends on both your expertise as the technician, as well as the user’s experience as your final critic.


Including user feedback in the loop is an essential part of usability improvement and a common mistake is to depend completely on your own opinions about how the software should be. Opening up a communication channel with your users and ensuring that it’s easy to navigate, and quick to cross will provide you with critical information on how to improve your offerings.

Make sure to integrate social into your app and manage it with sufficient dedication to reap all the benefit that you can from learning about real cases of user experience.


Usability is the beginning of user satisfaction

Do any of these common usability mistakes sound familiar? Keeping in mind these top usability issues can help increase your users’ satisfaction with the product you offer and keep them actively engaged with your apps, whilst boosting the chances of them sharing their positive experiences and recommending your product to their friends.

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