Usability Rules

Usability Rules

Note: The rules listed here are not a collection of rules gathered from other formal sources but rather are the rules I come up with as I think about what makes things work well.  Therefore, the list is always incomplete and will be in no particular order until I have gathered enough of them to see categories emerge to group them into.  If you have a rule to add, send it in and if I agree with it I’ll add it to the list.

Using Acronyms

When using an acronym the reader of an article or listener of a presentation may not understand, define it when first used in the article/presentation or you risk losing the attention of the reader/listener for  a significant portion of your article/presentation.  When in doubt, take a moment to define it.

Don’t Buck Convention

For some designs it may be tempting to redesign the way something is done to a conclusively better way to do it.  But it may still not be justified.  When I was a kid I went to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago (great town!) and they had “The Car of the Future” which was controlled by a stick like a fighter aircraft.  Worked better and all that.  Yet, here we are 30 (or more!) years later and we’re still driving cars with steering wheels.  Why didn’t we transition to the better way?  Because the existing convention (steering wheel) has too much momentum!

No car manufacturer was will to put a car out there that existing drivers would have to relearn to drive.  They’d also have to help governments set up training for the officials who give drivers their driving tests.  Then one fraction of the population would be driving cars with stick controllers and the rest would still be driving steering wheel cars.  You can imagine what else would need to be done.  It’s all doable but the momentum of the familiarity with the existing design acts as a heavy anchor to changing the convention.

This is not to say that there are not instances where it’s OK to buck convention.  But you better understand the difficulties before putting money on the line with a new design where a deeply embedded convention exists!

Give users everything they need

Make sure users of any interface have all of the information in front of them they need to do whatever they’re doing.

Don’t give users anything they don’t need

Simplify the user’s experience by hiding from users anything that is not relevant to the task at hand so they’re not wasting time pondering something that’s irrelevant to what they’re trying to accomplish.

Use Unambiguous, Self Documenting Terminology in Examples

See the post on the “Hello, Android” example.

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