Hertzum, M. (2010) Images of Usability

Abstract: The term usability is ubiquitous in human–computer interaction, so much so that it is commonly used without definition. Rather than one established meaning of usability, there are, however, multiple images of usability. Although each image provides a partial view, the partiality remains implicit unless confronted with alternative images. This study delineates six images of usability: universal usability, situational usability, perceived usability, hedonic usability, organizational usability, and cultural usability. The different foci of the images provide opportunities for becoming sensitized to manifold aspects of the use of a system and thereby acquiring a genuine understanding of its usability. The six images differ, for example, in the extent to which they include aspects of the outcome of the process of using a system or merely the process of use, whether they involve collaborative use or merely individual use, and in their view of usability as perceived by individuals or shared by groups. Several challenges result from recognizing that usability is a set of images rather than a coherent concept, including a risk of misunderstandings in discussions of usability because participants may assume different images of usability and a need for supplementary methods addressing the collaborative and long-term aspects of usability. Moreover, the images call for extending the scope of practical usability work to include the effects achieved by users during their use of systems for real work.

Link: Images of Usability article.

Hertzum, M. (2010) Images of Usability. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 26; 6: 567-600.

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One Response to Hertzum, M. (2010) Images of Usability

  1. Paula Janne Ida Vu says:

    Morten Hetzum claims in the article that there is no established definition of usability but multiple images of it. He introduces six usability images: universal, situational, perceived hedonic, organizational and cultural. Here is discussion about how these images were covered in the usablity evaluation project that was part of the Usability evaluation course in Spring 2011.

    Universal usability is defined to mean the challenge of making systems for everybody to use. It is relevant in relation to walk-up-and-use systems such as ATMs, text processing and a variety of web based systems. Our test product was not meant for everybody but instead for professional use, and universal usability was not important in this context. But, among the professionals the product was supposed to be a walk-up-and-use system, so some kind of restricted universal usability is relevant..

    Situational usability means the quality-in-use of a system in a specified situation with its users, tasks and wider context of use. The usability testing methods usually focus on this situation.
    This also fitted best to our test situation. Our product was meant for specific situations and users and for specific tasks.

    Perceived usability concerns the user’s subjective experience of a system based on his or her interaction with it. This subjective experience affects the performance, ways of interacting the system and decisions whether to use the system or not. In our evaluation this subjective experience was asked by interviews after testing. One can doubt that an interview after a short using session does not tell much of the subjective experience. It requires definitely a longer period of use.

    Hedonic usability is about the joy, excitement, satisfaction and other pleasurable emotions of use. This is considered an important aspect of usability because emotions are strongly correlated to the well-being of people. In our tests the most positive emotions arouse when users found a new useful feature or succeeded to accomplish some task. The emotions related to learning to use the product and it is difficult to predict what kind of emotions using the product regularly would arise.

    Organizational usability implies the usability of groups of people collaborating in an organizational setting. It emphasizes the structural and collaborative aspects of the use situation. Our product is meant for collaborative use, even between different organizations. This would be an interesting aspect to test but it would have required much more complicated test setting that was possible to use now. So it was left out though it would have been relevant.

    The last image is cultural usability meaning how usability takes on different meanings depending on the user’s cultural background. With out product this image is meaningful. The product is meant to be used worldwide and there might be differences in the usability between user groups with different cultural background. For instance the user interface uses symbols and icons that can be interpreted differently in different cultures. This was not tested in our project; getting those multicultural test users would have been challenging.

    Does defining these images make sense? They clearly bring new points of view to usability. Keeping the images in mind can introduce new objectives to testing. They also have implications on the selection of test users, testing methods and test settings. But how well these cover the field of usability? Are there other useful images that are not noticed yet?

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