Usability Engineering

What is usability engineering?

Usability measures how user-friendly a system is. Usability engineering is a professional discipline focused on optimizing the interactions between people and interactive systems.

Usability engineering leverages computer science theories and behavioural psychology to build products in accordance with the needs and requirements of real end-users. Usability engineers typically hold a bachelor’s in Computer Science as well as a background in Psychology, which enables them to apply knowledge of human behaviour to the creation of technology.

In a product development cycle, usability should be identified prior to prototyping. If usability is poor, revisions should be made before progressing the product further. The better the usability, the greater the chances of creating a successful product that users can easily interface with.

Standards and guidelines

When considering usability, it’s important to consider the related field of accessibility. Usability speaks to the ease of use for the general population, but accessibility addresses the ease of use for people with various physical disabilities.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has created a set of standards and guidelines for industry professionals to facilitate the use of software applications and web by people with disabilities. Below are the standards that they have developed.

The Web Accessibility Initiative guidelines

This guideline states that any website should be able to be viewed on any devices (e.g. smartphones or tablets), not only on desktop or laptop computers.

Section 508 government guidelines applicable to all public-sector websites

Section 508 government guidelines applicable to all public-sector websites

ADA guidelines for accessibility of state and local government websites

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. Under this law, people with disabilities should have full access to the web.

IBM guidelines for accessibility of websites

This guideline states that all user interface components must be a