The Importance of Creating Learnable Systems

Why it is important to focus on learnability as an important aspect of creating any experience.

User Experience (UX)

A common definition is the combined broad disciplines of user research, personas, information architecture, content strategy, interaction design, visual design, prototyping, usability testing and ultimately front end development.

Customer Experience (CX)

The design of the complete customer journey from the point where the user connects with the brand to the level of support they expect and receive…at every level, on every device and on every channel.

UX according to Wikipedia…

User experience (UX) involves a person’s behaviors, attitudes, and emotions about using a particular product, system or service. User experience includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction and product ownership. Additionally, it includes a person’s perceptions of system aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency.

I tend to describe it as any act or effort that makes people happy.

Learnability

In my opinion, “Learnability” is the most important aspect about usability. Measuring perception is everything when it comes to learnability. It is not just about the placement of a piece of text, the size of a button, thecoolness of a control or the colors of status indicators. Its more about the piece of text itself and how your users interpret it when they read it for thevery first time.

Does the design provide closure?
Does it help users with the next logical step?
Does it prevent them from turning to someone and asking “Hey, do you remember how to…

Learnability is about the details you add to help increase the adoption and comprehension of any experience. It is about those finer details that help save time for your users when they experience something new.

People have an amazing knack of getting accustomed to badly designed interfaces. For any product or experience to be successful in the long run, there are a few basics that must absolutely be in place. These are not value adds or USPs (Unique Selling Point), but plain and simple table stakes.

Interactions have to be usable, else they are going to fail.
Products have to be aesthetic, else they will mostly fail.
Systems have to be performant, else they will definitely fail.
Systems that are hard to learn… WILL FAIL.

As designers, we strive to make the most intuitive, aesthetic and usable systems for our users and often ignore learnability. We often forget that users start with a blank canvas. I’ve come to realize that the success of any system should be measured by how quickly someone, with absolutely little or no context, gets it or how easy it is for someone to complete a task after watching it no more than once.

Example 1 — Uninstall Programs (Otherwise called Removing something from your computer that you no longer want or need.)

Removing software on Windows (prior to Win 8).

Windows 8_UX

 

Let’s look at how a user uninstalls a program from her/his computer. For starters, the word uninstall itself is daunting.

Do you really uninstall your tap, bulb or your television? You remove it. You trash it.

Though much improved in Windows 8, the process was extremely daunting in previous versions. They still have this thing called the Control Panel if uninstall wasn’t scary enough.

One had to open the control panel if you managed to locate it, find the software you wanted to uninstall and then click a button and then hope that it did a clean job. Microsoft even has a detailed page describing the process.

And here’s a video in case you want to refresh your memory.

http://youtu.be/6iWM-y17_No

Compare this with the experience in OSX. You find a program and then drag it to the trash can just like any other file. Simple and Learnable.

Microsoft_improved

To the credit of Microsoft, they’ve improved it a great deal by making the interaction a lot simpler and learnable in Windows 8.

Example 2 — Interacting with an ATM screen.

ATM_UX_Example

How many call to actions do you see? What do you think about the UI text on this screen? What do you think about the sizes of each control and their positions? How long do you think it would take a customer with little or no technical knowledge to learn how to enter a pin?

Now compare the above example with the one below.

ATM_UX

Clearly the skeuomorphism is a bit much but the interaction seems so learnable! From the messaging on the screen to the size of the buttons, it just seems that it would take very little time for someone to ‘get’ what they need to do.

In Conclusion

Everything that we add to a screen matters. Your perception of an interaction or an interface does not count. Test, Test and Test again. See how your users perceive every single element that you add for them. Your job is to make their lives a little easier. Don’t make it hard for anyone to learn something new. Remember how we learnt the alphabet using standing and sleeping lines?

Every little thing is important. The verbiage, color, size, padding, margins, line-spacing, sentences, feedback and interactions of every single element on that screen. Never ever compromise on learnability and performance. As a rule, If it is hard to learn and doesn’t work fast enough, its pretty much useless.

This writeup was partly inspired by a quote I heard from someone at Microsoft. Yes you read that right… Microsoft.

“50% of most usability related issues can be solved by simply addressing the UI text.”

By: Jatin Shah
UX Architect at Aditi Technologies
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