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Dec 2005 Contents

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World Usability Day in the United Kindom

by Amanda Bellamy

Andrea Bellamy is the Society's external relations officer, and have been in this job since February 2002. Prior to this, she worked as a press officer for charities and in local government.

Mouse traps, kettles and baby seats were just some of the products that were put into the spotlight at an open lecture on usability in Loughborough on Thursday 3 November to mark World Usability Day. The day was designed to show everyone how they can improve the usability of products to create a better user experience.

Magdelan Galley (left) and Lada Gorlenko (right)
Magdelan Galley (left)
Lada Gorlenko (right)
The lecture involved two speakers - Lada Gorlenko, a usability professional from IBM, Warwick, and Magdalen Galley, president of the Ergonomics Society. They emphasised that all citizens and customers have the right to expect easy to use products and services, and explained the science and practice behind making things easy to use.

Though they agreed that technology was bringing huge gains, many products were becoming more complex which meant that good design was vital to ensure usability. Both speakers targeted new ticket machines as some of the worst offenders when it came to presenting users with problems.

Examples included bus ticket machines with such a poor layout that although the instructions told the user to press the ticket buttons first, they invariably put their coins in first because the coin slots were above the ticket buttons. Their coins would be returned to them which led users to think the machine was broken.

Another example closer to hand was the car parking ticket machine at one of Loughborough's car parks. Motorists are faced with a poorly designed and complex keypad on which they have to key in their full registration number, which bemuses new users and results in queues.

Ticket machines were not the only products to be criticised by the speakers. Lada drew attention to websites that looked attractive but used poor colour contrast so that people with sight problems had difficulty using them. She pointed to the fact that many people over 45 had difficulty reading small print so it was important to take into account their needs if a product was targeted at them. From business goals to finished products, she described how users needed to be consulted throughout the design process.

Magdalen warned of the dangers that arise when technology drives function, resulting in products being much more complex than people needed e.g. a washing machine with 10 programmes when most people only ever used two of them.

Packaging was another area of concern. "Twenty percent of people over 55 have stopped buying some food products because they cannot open them," said Magdalen. She added that usability also has safety implications and pointed to rectangular corned beef cans. The difficulty people had in opening them regularly leads to injuries that are bad enough to need hospital treatment.

The lecture was organised by ergonomist Martin Maguire, of the UK Chapter of the Usability Professionals' Association. The UPA had initiated the day which involved events taking place in 100 cities across 30 countries.

Martin, an Ergonomics Society member, works for ESRI, (Ergonomics Safety Research Institute) based at Loughborough University. Director of ESRI John Richardson opened the lecture, which took place at the Cope Auditorium off Epinal Way and attracted an audience of over 100, including students from many Loughborough University departments and a group from Coventry University.

Martin has organised a follow-up session for students to discuss how to ensure that usability was incorporated into their project work.

Bio of Martin McGuire
Martin is an ergonomist at the Ergonomics and Safety Research Institute (formerly HUSAT) at Loughborough University in the UK. He has worked on the design of systems and products to be usable by the general public, including older and disabled people. He also developed the RESPECT framework for user requirements analysis. He is membership secretary on the UK UPA committee and, with Amanda Bellamy of the Ergonomics
Society, organised the recent WUD seminar at Loughborough University with
speakers Lada Gorlenko and Magdelan Galley.

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