News/Trends, Product

Six Common Usability Mistakes in Software Product Design

February 22, 2009 Jaspreet Singh, Founder and CEO

By now, all good designers and developers realize the importance of usability for their work. Usable products offer great user experiences, and great user experiences lead to happy customers.

Six common mistakes and recommendations for product design and usability –

1. Usability Vs Utility Utility refers to the ability of the product to perform tasks. The more tasks the product is designed to perform, the more utility it has. Usability refers to the ease of learning and performing these tasks.

Utility vs usability

Most software give higher priority to features than usability. As a result it becomes more and more confusing for the end user to get work done.

2. Liking it Vs Using It Likeability is always a desirable trait in a product. If people like the product, they are more likely to use it and to recommend it to others. But as with utility, likeability is often confused with usability.

Liking It - Skype

People often like a product for reasons unrelated to utility and usability. They may be attracted to its styling and flash, or to the status they believe the product confers upon them. People tend to like highly usable products, but you should not assume that means a well-liked product is usable.

3. Discovery Vs Flow Some of the most widely used products do not have an instructions manual e.g. toothbrush or Skype.

Products with “Installation Manuals” turn me off. IMO, there is place on earth for installation manuals. And admin guides should be only when you want to learn a little extra or troubleshoot. Instead the product should try and use inline or in-GUI help as much as possible.

Discovery involves looking for, and finding, a product’s feature in response to a particular need. And it gets worse when a complex feature needs multiple inputs or choices to be made.

I am a big fan of wizards. I think the task becomes much simpler when broken down into series of actions.

4. Tiny Meaningless buttons The buttons should signify action. The most common mistake with buttons is when they are labeled “OK” which in my opinion makes very little sense.

button with action

Buttons should have lables which signify clear actions like – “Modify Report Schedule”

5. Duplicate Actions Quite often, products have more than one ways of performing the same task. This is confusing and often irritating. There should always be one clear way of performing an action.

6. Don’t Give Too Many Choices Never confuse flexibility with giving too many choice. You would never buy car from a salesman who gives you 8-10 names for “the cars that might suit you”. Instead you are more likely to buy, when the salesman gives you 1 (or max 2) options and convinces you.

Too many choices

If you are sure that more than 80% of your audience is likely to vote “yes” for the option, please make it a default. Or if you really want it, add it to “advanced”.

Disclosure If you think inSync is a very user friendly product, you would be pleasently surprised with the upcoming upgrade. Usability has been one of our core focus areas in inSync v3 release.