The word “usability” drives me nuts. “User friendly” is even worse; it’s one of those expressions, like “awesome,” that has become so overused as to lose all meaning. Search for usability on and you’ll get more than 4,000 hits—almost twice as many hits as for “web design.” Maybe this is why inexperienced web designers often fall back on usability “statistics” to defend their work instead of making it better.

Of course, despite the constant overuse of the term and misuse of the research, a lot of us in the industry have long known that “usability” is indeed the secret to business success, online and offline. So, I’d like to share some thoughts, observations, and facts with ordinary people who are simply out to produce better stuff using common sense rather than politics to get things done.

I’ll start by defining the key concept.

What is “usability”?

So you can put this book in proper perspective, here’s my definition of usability:

Usability deals with an individual’s ability to accomplish specific tasks or achieve broader goals while “using” whatever it is you are investigating, improving, or designing—including services that don’t even involve a “thing” like a doorknob or web page.

Pretty simple, huh? Here’s how it works:

If a car won’t start, its basic, functional usability is bad. If the car starts but is unsafe, unreliable, or merely uncomfortable, the car still has usability issues, albeit slightly more indirect. But here’s the point: In all of these ...

Get Usable Usability: Simple Steps for Making Stuff Better now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from nearly 200 publishers.