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Despite many research advances in interactive computer systems,
usability barriers still obstruct access to, and blunt
effectiveness of, an every-citizen interface for the national
information infrastructure-disenfranchising and disenchanting users
across society. As a result, the United States fails to accrue the
potentially enormous returns of our collective investment in
computing technology. These barriers impede human productivity and
have a profound impact on computer users in business, government,
industry, education, and indeed the whole nation.
In the not-too-distant past, computer usage was esoteric,
conducted mostly by a core of technically oriented users who were
not only willing to accept the challenge of overcoming poor
usability but also sometimes welcomed it as a barrier to protect
their craft from uninitiated "outsiders." Poor usability was good
for the field's mystique, not to mention users' job security. Now,
unprecedented numbers of Americans use computers, and user
interface is often the first thing people ask about when discussing
software. To most users the interface is the system. For the
"every citizen" of today, communication with the system has become
at least as important as computation by the system.
The goals of most organizations include increased employee and
organization productivity, decreased employee training costs,
decreased employee work errors, and increased employee
satisfaction. These are also exactly the benefits of achieving high
usability in user interfaces. Too often, especially in government
and large businesses, training is used as a costly substitute for
usability, and almost as often it fails to meet its goals.
Attention to usability by developers no longer requires
justification in most quarters: "usability has become a competitive
necessity for the commercial success of software" (Butler,
Product and Process
Achieving good usability requires attention to both product and
process. The product, in this case, is the content of the
user interaction design and its embodiment in software. An
effective process for developing interaction design is also
important, and a poor understanding of the process is often
responsible for a product's lack of usability. While
state-of-the-art user interaction development processes are based
on formative usability evaluation in an iterative cycle, much of
the state of the practice is fundamentally flawed in that
remarkably little formal usability evaluation is performed on most
interactive systems. This is generally changing now in many
industrial settings. However, ensuring usability remains difficult
when evaluation, because of real or perceived costs, is not
standard practice in interactive software development projects.