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Usability: It’s Not Just for the Web Anymore

Posted by Lauren

15 May 2011 — No Comments

Posted in Design, Print


When you hear the word, “usability” what do you think of first? Web sites? Yes, well, most people do.

It makes sense that usability has become famous through the introduction and evolution of the Web. Web sites are the ultimate user-centered medium and usability is imperative to its success.

But I contend that usability is, and always has been, important in all types of communication and media, including print design.

Jakob Nielsen, who has been called “the world’s leading expert on Web usability” and more, defines usability as a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use.

Usability is defined by five quality components:

  • Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
  • Efficiency: Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
  • Memorability: When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they re-establish proficiency?
  • Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?
  • Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the design?

Let’s see how these components relate to a design or communication in the print world. We can run any printed marketing collateral (i.e. brochures, direct mail postcards, newspaper advertising, etc.) through our usability test:

  • Learnability: Is it immediately clear the purpose of the piece? Is the call-to-action intuitive? Or do users get overwhelmed or confused by the message and toss it in the trash?
  • Efficiency: Is the core message memorable and the call-to-action easy to perform? Or is the task too complex for the user to remember or complete?
  • Memorability: Is the piece consistent with your brand? Does it relate to other messages from your brand? Or do users have to re-learn your brand attributes with every marketing piece?
  • Errors: OK, this one may be a bit of a stretch, but you can question whether the information design and hierarchy is clear and communicating the right message. Or are users confused by the information?
  • Satisfaction: Is the visual design engaging? Do users keep the piece or share it with others? Or is it considered a piece of junk mail or trash?

So the next time you are designing or critiquing a piece of printed collateral, run it through the usability test to determine its potential for success.

The definition of “usability” was sourced from Jakob’s article entitled, “Usability 101: Introduction to Usability

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