When I approached usability the first time I didn´t have a clear idea about it: is it about graphic design or what? After spending some time on it I got the main idea behind it. The user is in the center and the technology is designed around the user.
Technology changes all the time, but the user is still there. Software development should start by identifying the target audience. Who are users and what they are trying to do? Once the user is identified, next step is understanding why the user needs the software and how it needs to work. Nobody wants to be good at excel just for the sake of it. People want to be good at excel to be able to manipulate data for statistical, engineering or financial needs.
Having in mind the user, what are the basic, critical features which are most needed? What can be left behind? What do users use the most? Focusing only on relevant functionalities is more laborious to achieve because it requires a full understanding of the user, tasks, and business. Sometimes less is more, in fact providing only critical features has several pros: the tool is clear to understand and use, there is no need to read a guide before, it serves its purpose, it is less costly to maintain and easier to test, and last but not least, it makes the user more satisfied. Antoine de Saint Exupéry talking about design says “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
The process to find the critical features requires time and it is iterative. It starts from drawing on paper sketches on how the user interface should look like: no fancy design, cool fonts, or colors. Only the basic functionalities, and the best part is that on paper everything works, no bugs!
The second stage involves designing wireframes, they are still basic but while drawing many questions arise. And answers must be found: at this point specification start to shape also the details. Technical restrains, client requests, legal aspects are all taken into consideration while wire framing.
Demos can be used to be aligned internally or with clients on what are the functionalities and how they are designed, in order to involve users in the process. It comes naturally, software is just a tool to achieve goals.
The most exciting part for me is when eventually the new software is implemented. What was just an idea on paper is now working software!
By Irene Palazzo, Business Analyst at Profit Software