Wednesday, July 27, 2016

On discoverability

Daniel G. Siegel posted an item on his blog recently that is very closely tied to usability testing: On discoverability.

I've discussed elsewhere that usability is about real people doing real tasks in a reasonable amount of time. Some researchers also refer to "learnability" and "memorability" to define usability—this is very similar to discoverability. Can you discover the features of the system just by poking at it? Is the user interface obvious enough that you can figure it out on your own?

Daniel's post includes a video of a usability test that explores the Google search box on a smartphone. It's a short but very interesting video to watch, as the tester clearly becomes more and more frustrated with how to initiate a search.

I want to close by highlighting some of Daniel's comments:
if there is no way to discover what operations are possible just by looking at the screen and the interaction is numbed with no feedback by the devices, what's left? the interaction gets reduced to experience and familiarity where we only rely on readily transferred, existing skills.

And that's why usability is so important, especially for open source software where users often must learn the software with no tutorials or other instructions to guide them.


  1. This reminds me of how complex Linux initially was, there are thousands of applications and projects and it takes a long time to discover which applications are suitable replacements for people coming from Windows or Mac.

    People don't know that WPS is a replacement for Microsoft Office, or what replaces iTunes - Rhythmbox, Lollipop or Tomahawk.

    Ubuntu Software Center was very instrumental in educating users as to which apps did what by providing screenshots, a rating system, and a simplified software catalog compared to synaptic in the past.

    Now Gnome Software helps provide a simplified catalog to useful apps.

    Keep up the pursuit of simplicity and study of User Intraction and UX, it puts Gnome in a special class of their own.

  2. Could you *please* (not targeted at you but Gnome in general) stay within the realm of science?

    I'm saying this because that video, for one, feels more like a worse case scenario than anything really representative. Actually, I even doubt its authenticity: anyone who has ever used a web browser should be able to handle this in less than two minutes.

    You've never seen the web before? Yes, it can be frustrating just like anything else new which, by vertue of being new, is unknown, unfamiliar and not easy to handle. There might be some ways to improve on that... But it is already very good: the first time I used chrome on my smartphone, it told me where to click to start a search, precisely to make the life of people easier.

    So learning from this is possible, we can still improve on things. But don't present that as something usual, or if it is, I want more than unfounded claims (again, not against you personally, more against Daniel for that regard).