Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Functionality is the enemy of usability

Capture When you are handed a functional specification, it is easy to take it on face value, and then work hard to make that functionality as usable as possible. If you are really focussed on usability, then your job starts with critiquing the functionality itself.

9 comments:

  1. I am rather enjoying these short posts, but I think this one may be a tad shorter than needed.

    I'm not sure what you mean by critiquing the functional spec unless yours are different than the ones I get. Do you mean question the minimum reasons that the project is required to contain? I guess I agree with that in principle. You should always challenge if the function is needed in the first place. I'm just not sure that your metaphor works in this case.

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  2. Hi Ron, I guess I mean that if you are taking responsibility for the usability of a project, you have to tackle the functionality as part of that responsibility, since the functionality determines much of the usability, regardless of how well you design the UI.

    In other words, you should help form the RIGHT set of requirements based on what you know about user goals, user behaviour etc.

    Shane

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  3. Fully agree. I'm just finishing up a big project (two years), and when I look at it, my biggest contribution was what I didn't do, i.e. the stuff that I threw out of the functional specs. I sacrificed density for clarity and I'm convinced it has made all the difference.

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  4. Your insight here is ZEN!

    A simple illustration. Instead of implementing 50 sorting algorithms and filers for a requested user report, step back and figure out how to present the report 'right' the first time so that 'most' users of the system see the data they are looking for the first time round without needing to massage the view with a litany of UI controls.

    Systems developer this way are 'simpler' and more 'intuitive to use' I think.

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  5. My first visit to this site... Not sure how light hearted or serious it's meant to be taken.

    What you're saying is very true. But I think the title of this learning infers that functionality is and always will be an obstacle for usability and I'm not sure this is the case. Does it have to suggest an antagonistic sentiment?

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  6. When I'm talking about functionality here, I'm talking about 'things the system does' as opposed to 'ways the system does it'. In that respect, almost by definition, every additional feature is necessariy makes a product more difficult to use, if only due to the additional choice it imposes on a user.

    Yes, I've used strident language, but I don't step away from that. This is a suject that I feel passionate about: people who claim to care about 'user experience' but who are unwilling to tackle the biggest influence on that experience: "do we have the right mix of features?"

    So yes, I'm serious :-)

    Shane

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  7. So you are saying that critiquing will always result in omitting features?Sometimes, critiquing the functional specs can highlight missing functionality that can enhance usability.

    I still think that "enemy" is too strong a word and that the axiom can develop unsavoury attitude towards individuals who are supposed to be working collaboratively with an IXer towards the same aim.

    Also, from the perspective of information design, the diagram above infers that USER EXPERIENCE is made up of only USABILITY and FUNCTIONALITY and that FUNCTIONALITY has a bigger role in USER EXPERIENCE.

    Perhaps a more relevant diagram i

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  8. I read this as 'question everything'

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  9. I didn't understand this at all at first but after reading all the comments I see this clear as day now. Thanks everyone for pushing this one farther!

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