Usability is why we have smart phones instead of kludgy brick-like gizmos. Usability specialists are people who design the coolest products, that are simple to use, and everyone loves. Think iPod, IM, Wii, FB. Wanna see some cool stuff?
I’ve chosen this topic in honor of World Usability Day, which is today!
Usability means studying the PEOPLE who are going to use a product, THEN designing the right product for them. It means figuring out how to hide all the complicated stuff so it’s easy for people to just USE the product.
Usability is about observing real problems and creating innovative solutions. Yes, it is most often associated with high-tech products, but usability can also help create low-tech products (IDEO designed the Swiffer, for example: http://www.ideo.com/work/swiffer-carpetflick?work/featured/swiffer) or services. For example, Patrick Whitney’s team designed a way to deliver water to slums in India that lack plumbing (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa4143/is_200410/ai_n9468895/pg_3/?tag=content;col1). Previously, water was delivered by truck, but Whitney’s team had it delivered by motorcycle to get through spaces where trucks couldn’t fit.
So, why does education need usability?
Anything that needs improvement needs usability. Right now, the world is trying to improve many aspects of education, which is a gigantic task, given the complexity and infrastructure changes that will, in my opinion, need to go along with the transformation. Some aspects being talked about are:
- How should we integrate technology into lessons? What should take place in a physical classroom, what should be digital but at school, what should be online?
- Are government-mandated tests effective? If not, how should we measure improvement in knowledge and skills?
- How do we learn? Do different learning styles exist? If so, is it a small number of styles, or an infinite number?
Here are some companies that are working toward such goals.
- This organization is developing games, on the theory that we learn by playing: http://www.learninggamesnetwork.org/
- This company offers online courses, which are useful for communities that don’t have enough students to offer A.P. classes, or students that need to finish the courses required for graduation:
I couldn’t find a good video to explain what usability is. A 4-minute one would be great.
For more information about usability, see: