Ease of Use

Your constantly-updated definition of Ease of Use and collection of videos and articles
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What is Ease of Use?

Ease of use is a basic concept that describes how easily users can use a product. Design teams define specific metrics per project—e.g., “Users must be able to tap Find within 3 seconds of accessing the interface.”—and aim to optimize ease of use while offering maximum functionality and respecting business limitations.

“Ease of use may be invisible, but its absence sure isn’t.”

- IBM

See why ease of use is a fundamental part of user experience.

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Designing for Ease of Use can be Complicated

Ease of use is a central usability concept. Usability comprises all user experience (UX) elements relating to the ease with which users can learn, discover content and do more with a design/product. In UX design, usability is a minimum requirement for any successful product, but good usability alone is no guarantee of market success. If you create an easy-to-use interface, though, you can partly tap into emotional design and help users fall in love with it, your brand and the service represented.

Ease of use is frequently at odds with functionality – a balance where functionality sometimes wins. For example, a DSLR camera gives users immense control. The “price”, however, is that users need some photographic expertise – unlike with point-and-shoot smartphones. A vital dynamic in user interface (UI) design is users’ ability to achieve goals without having to consider they’re using a website or app. So, ease of use is an integral part of seamless experiences. Designers typically strive to answer “Can users interact easily enough with the interface to complete their tasks/goals effortlessly?” with “How might we minimize the complexity of what users must do?”.

Author/Copyright holder: Bill Bertram. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 3.0

DSLR cameras are usually as simple as possible, for target users.

How to Maximize Ease of Use

Easy-to-use designs are ones which users find so familiar that they’re intuitive. It’s best to start with user research so you can understand your users and the contexts in which they’ll encounter and use your design. When your research helps you gain empathy with users through contextual interviews, observations, etc., you can see what “ease of use” would mean for them. Then, you’ll be able to determine how to map the best functions to their needs. First, you’ll want to consider your users’ goals:

  1. Overall goals –What your users want to achieve ultimately – E.g., healthier blood pressure levels.

  2. Completion goals –What they expect to have happened after using your product – E.g., lower blood pressure.

  3. Behavioral goals –What they would do to achieve the goal without your product – E.g., manually record their daily salt intake if they didn’t have your app.

A key part of maximizing ease of use is to understand the fine details of how users see their own needs, problems, etc. Helpful questions include:

  • What are users prepared to do to reach those goals and any subtasks on the way? – Specifically, what must they do as they progress and why must they do action A before action B, etc.? What expectations do they have at each touchpoint?

  • Where would they use this product? – e.g., at home

  • How would they use it? – e.g., on a smartphone

  • What would prompt them to use it? – e.g., needing to book travel tickets

  • What would they expect to find as they move through a process? – e.g., a shopping cart

  • What’s going on around them while they use it?– e.g., are they moving around, possibly stressed?

  • What obstacles might keep them from using it? – e.g., signal strength issues, other parties must act first.

  • What could motivate them to pick your product over a competitor’s? – E.g., they can wear your fitness app and scan food product barcodes with a smartphone.

When you answer these, you can work towards project-specific metrics, such as: “Train users must be able to find travel information within 15 seconds.”

Our homepage features affordances (blue buttons), whitespace and more to optimize ease of use.

Special Ease-of-use Considerations

Here are some helpful things to consider for easy-to-use designs:

  • Imagine a “perfect scenario” – When you address questions such as “What if this process magically occurred?” or “What if users had an incredibly knowledgeable helper?” as you begin the design process, you might just discover the easiest path for users to take on their task flows.

  • Affordances and natural mapping – Use design principles to make (e.g.) pushbuttons and match users’ expectations for how real-world items work. Instantly recognizable controls should work predictably (e.g., sliders offer smooth adjustment).

  • Mobile UX design – When users work on smaller screens and in hectic/uncomfortable environments, they’ll become frustrated far faster than when sitting with their desktops. So, try to discover their expectations, pain points, etc. from using tools such as customer journey maps.

  • UI design patterns – Patterns such as wizards, to prepare forms, help reduce stress and hard

  • Accessibility – When you maximize ease of use with features that include users of all abilities, your product will likely be more successful among all types of users.

Overall, reality rules – and sometimes you’ll need to make trade-offs for your product to be viable (e.g., avoiding expensive technology to run it on).

Learn More about Ease of Use

We have several courses discussing ease of use: e.g.,
Get Your Product Used: Adoption and Appropriation

Here’s a thought-provoking Experience Dynamics piece examining important ease-of-use angles.

Discover this Nielsen Norman Group approach to measuring ease of use.

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Literature on Ease of Use

Here’s the entire UX literature on Ease of Use by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Ease of Use

Take a deep dive into Ease of Use with our course The Practical Guide to Usability .

Every product or website should be easy and pleasurable to use, but designing an effective, efficient and enjoyable product is hardly the result of good intentions alone. Only through careful execution of certain usability principles can you achieve this and avoid user dissatisfaction, too. This course is designed to help you turn your good intentions into great products through a mixture of teaching both the theoretical guidelines as well as practical applications surrounding usability.

Countless pieces of research have shown that usability is important in product choice, but perhaps not as much as users themselves believe; it may be the case that people have come to expect usability in their products. This growing expectation puts even more pressure on designers to find the sweet spot between function and form. It is meanwhile critical that product and web developers retain their focus on the user; getting too lost within the depths of their creation could lead to the users and their usability needs getting waylaid. Through the knowledge of how best to position yourself as the user, you can dodge this hazard. Thanks to that wisdom, your product will end up with such good usability that the latter goes unnoticed!

Ultimately, a usable website or product that nobody can access isn’t really usable. A usable website, for example, is often overlooked when considering the expansion of a business. Even with the grandest intentions or most “revolutionary” notions, the hard truth is that a usable site will always be the windpipe of commerce—if users can’t spend enough time on the site to buy something, then the business will not survive. Usability is key to growth, user retention, and satisfaction. So, we must fully incorporate it into anything we design. Learn how to design products with awesome usability through being led through the most important concepts, methods, best practices, and theories from some of the most successful designers in our industry with “The Practical Guide to Usability.”

All open-source articles on Ease of Use

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