There was a time when the very people who designed hardware and software were the only ones to use them. For such highly skilled technicians, the highly complicated systems they developed were not a problem; in fact, they were preferred. Times have changed. Today, technical specialists are greatly outnumbered by a new and growing category of computer user – the novice. These users may be highly trained professionals, but relatively new to computing.
IBM usability expert Dr. Clare-Marie Karat advises that the shift in customer base requires a shift of focus: “The computer industry must change its perspective and design products and systems for the intended user of the product – with all of the user’s skills, abilities, and faults in mind. The user is, after all, the customer.”
To assist this change in perspective, Karat has proposed a new set of 10 industry guidelines “to transform the culture in which information technology systems are designed, developed and manufactured,” and to ensure all future products are precisely what the customer expects. Her theory: in this new computer age, the customer is not only right, the customer has rights.
- Perspective: The user is always right. If there is a problem with the use of the system, the system is the problem, not the user.
- Installation: The user has the right to easily install and uninstall software and hardware systems without negative consequences.
- Compliance: The user has the right to a system that performs exactly as promised.
- Instruction: The user has the right to easy-to-use instructions (user guides, online or contextual help, error messages) for understanding and utilizing a system to achieve desired goals and recover efficiently and gracefully from problem situations.
- Control: The user has the right to be in control of the system and to be able to get the system to respond to a request for attention.
- Feedback: The user has the right to a system that provides clear, understandable, and accurate information regarding the task it is performing and the progress toward completion.
- Dependencies: The user has the right to be clearly informed about all systems requirements for successfully using software or hardware.
- Scope: The user has the right to know the limits of the system’s capabilities.
- Assistance: The user has the right to communicate with the technology provider and receive a thoughtful and helpful response when raising concerns.
10. Usability: The user should be the master of software and hardware technology, not vice-versa. Products should be natural and intuitive to use.
“Technologists need to realize that the bulk of customers they are now building product for are users who expect the technology to work well and have practical applicability,” Karat continues. Consequently, she states, “there is a critical need for the industry to focus on ease of use in order to address the needs of new customers and to continue growth in the technology industry.”
Still, not only do “individual companies need to focus on ease-of-use,” Karat believes “there will also need to be cooperation across the industry to achieve these goals, as systems today integrate components from several companies.” Simply put, making IT easy for the customer is a team effort. IBM is working with the major companies in the industry to remove inhibitors in order to make life easier for tomorrow’s users.
Making IT easy is the obvious choice. Building ease of use into products “builds quality into products,” Karat says, “and benefits both the customers and the industry.”