Usability Skool: 30 simple rules for designing software (part1)
Yesterday, Smashing Magazine published a smashing list of usability principles and terminology. These should be known by anybody designing, developing, and marketing web applications. Most of the so-called rules have been around for decades. Some derived from cognitive psychology, others just catchy buzzwords coined by popular UX authors like Don Norman and Leslie Nielsen… er Jakob Nielsen…
Some of the rules though are badly outdated. Go read the original article for depth. Here I’ll give a synopsis of the first 10 rules along with some suggested updates. Tomorrow I’ll do the middle 10, and Thursday the back 10.
1. 7 Plus or Minus 2
This is an old theory of memory that spawned the 7 digit phone number. I don’t think it applies well to software. In the days of command line interfaces users had to memorize much more than 9 things. That was the necessity. Today’s UIs are a thread where every action leads to another set of options. Today, users’ memories are much lazier!
2. The 2 Second Rule
In bull-riding you try to stay on for 8 seconds. For the web, something has to happen within 2 seconds for good usability. It used to be 5 to 7 seconds. Depends if you’re on dial-up. With web technologies such as AJAX, proper user feedback should be instantaneous: the Zero-second rule!
3. The 3-Click Rule
E-com conventions stated that a user had to find what they were looking for within 3 clicks, or you’d lose them to your competition. This one really misses the boat. Click-throughs should be efficient, but good navigational cues are more important for users. Let users know where they’ve been, and clearly show where they can go.
4. The 80/20 Rule
The old business adage is that 80% of your profits come from 20% of your customers. Designers often misunderstand this concept. It has to do with layering functionality: 80% of users use 20% of available functionality 100% of the time. Present the common stuff first,and bury the esoteric stuff!
5. 8 Golden Rules of Design
Way back in the stone age, Ben Schneiderman invented usability – or so he thought. Ben’s rules include things like offering simple error handling and offering informative feedback. Unless you work at Microsoft, these will look rather obvious.
6. Fitts’ Law
A relic from the 50s, it’s about minimizing distance between sequential actions. In today’s world, it means reducing physical distance between expected mousing events. This one is increasingly more important, as I write this from the 24 inch iMac screen. Carpal Tunnel wrist injuries? meh! Carpal Tunnel SHOULDER injuries!!
7. Nielson’s Inverted Pyramid
Forget the pyramid BS… users want instant gratification and the whole story upfront.
8. The Good’Nuff Rule
Smashing Mag calls this Satisficing. Users don’t seek out “optimal”, they go with the flow with what works. If it’s good enough, they stick with it. Note to designers: Usability isn’t an absolute science. Hell, it’s barely a science!
9. Baby-Duck Syndrome
I only knew Baby Duck as a really cheap sparkling wine… The premise is that users will only like what they already know. I think web 2.0 has broken this myth. People are ready to try new things. Some people will only be interested in new things. Case in point – Facebook’s UI is totally different than MySpace’s UI… That duck don’t quack!
As users scan pages, they generally ignore areas that look like ads. This view is rather simplistic. The BIG challenge facing designers is designing a navigation architecture that doesn’t get confused with advertising. Current example: Classmates ads mimicking as Facebook navigation, and scamming click-through!.