8.4. Looking at the Usability Aspects of a Famous Situation

Usability refers to how easy something is to use, how comfortably it interfaces with the user, and how unlikely its operation is to result in errors. Usability plays a major role in the design, and ultimate success or failure, of pen-based and touch-controlled computers.

In determining the usability of a design, many techniques are employed. One of the most well-known is "usability testing." This refers to formal testing, often in a lab setting specifically designed for that purpose with recording devices and perhaps one-way mirrors, where users of a product are observed as they perform tasks, make mistakes, ask questions, etc.

This essay is about the usability of a stylus-based system used by millions of people that proved to be error prone: the so-called Florida Butterfly Ballot. The essay was written soon after the voting in the 2000 U.S. presidential election, after it was known that there were problems in Florida but before the final outcome of the election was decided. It gives a nice case history for thinking about the nuances involved in designing a product with a high level of usability.

Ballot Usability in Florida

Jakob Nielsen[] has been insisting for years that usability is real important. I've written on this web site about how important we feel it is at Trellix Corporation. Well, here we have a new, about-to-be-a-classic example in another domain.

What is the issue?

In the oh-so-close presidential race ...

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