5 Important Usability Criteria

We’ve already talked at pretty excruciating lengths about usability criteria in the past, just not in a condensed look like this. This means that a lot of the points I make here are going to feel very redundant and repetitive to those deeply familiar with usability, UX and our material on the whole.

But, it’s probably best to go over just a quick look at some of the more important usability criteria, for those new to our stuff and to the topic in general. Also, this is helpful in giving us a very good look at what drives usability on the whole, and what shapes testing for this complex science. With this kind of understanding, we can better judge ROI, formulate effective test plans, and just generally speed up the usability refinement phases and make them more efficient.

So, with that said, this is only five. There are others, so we may, one more time, have to touch on this later, to cover another set of these. One more of those, probably. Oh well.

#1 – Status Visibility

A system, application or web interface structure that sits idle and does not provide any sign of activity is not good. While static web pages can get away with this, anything expected to be “thinking” and complex needs to maintain a steady output of status, actions being taken and progress through phases.

When idle, it needs to report and refresh statistics such as how long it’s been running or just a little clock readout at least that shows it’s working and not frozen or locked.

People often overlook the importance of this one, and it gets passed by. This needs to change, and it needs to change now.

#2 – Matches User’s World

Along with showing signs of life, it needs to speak the “language” of the intended users. Its labels, layouts, order of procedures and general disciplines for use need to make conventional sense to the kind of people which the thing is being made for.

Adobe’s Photoshop, for example, famously thinks like an artist in how its processes, representations and procedures are governed. This is a big key to their success in this niche, and through the use of this same kind of practice, in many other niches as well.

#3 – Freedom and Control

Even if you’re matching the user’s worldview well, users still vary. Making the layout adjustable, and many settings easily changeable gives the users the capacity to calibrate the experience further, to perfectly suit their needs and their way of thinking.

Microsoft’s Visual studio does this pretty famously, as does, again, Adobe’s stuff. You don’t see as much of this in mobile design or SaaS yet, but I expect it to be a thing soon enough there as well.

#4 – Consistency

Being consistent is also very important. If each form or window is completely different in appearance, layout or label convention, then the user will have to get used to instantly recognizing vastly more patterns than if they all matched the same templates within practicality.

Along with that, inconsistency like that looks shoddy, incompetent and unprofessional. Be careful with that!

#5 – Error Handling and Prevention

Finally, for this set, there’s accurately addressing errors. We talked about this recently at length. Handling errors so that applications do not fail is important, but along with this, going through the code heavily during testing, and discovering all the possible absurd errors that the code can just allow. Adjusting code so they can never even happen, where practical, is the mark of a company that takes things seriously.

These usability criteria are the biggest ones, but there are five or so more big ones that also deserve due attention. We’ll get to those soon, probably.


Jessica is the Lead Author & Editor of UsabilityLab Blog. Jessica writes for the UsabilityLab blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to usability.