Usability Engineering

Your constantly-updated definition of Usability Engineering and collection of topical content and literature


What is Usability Engineering?

Usability engineering is a professional discipline that focuses on improving the usability of interactive systems. It draws on theories from computer science and psychology to define problems that occur during the use of such a system. Usability engineering involves the testing of designs at various stages of the development process, with users or with usability experts.

The history of usability engineering in this context dates back to the 1980s. In 1988, authors John Whiteside and John Bennett—of Digital Equipment Corporation and IBM, respectively—published material on the subject, isolating the early setting of goals, iterative evaluation, and prototyping as key activities. The usability expert Jakob Nielsen is a leader in the field of usability engineering. In his 1993 book Usability Engineering, Nielsen describes methods to use throughout a product development process—so designers can ensure they take into account the most important barriers to learnability, efficiency, memorability, error-free use, and subjective satisfaction before implementing the product. Nielsen’s work describes how to perform usability tests and how to use usability heuristics in the usability engineering lifecycle. Ensuring good usability via this process prevents problems in product adoption after release.

Rather than focusing on finding solutions for usability problems—which is the focus of a UX or interaction designer—a usability engineer mainly concentrates on the research phase. In this sense, it is not strictly a design role, and many usability engineers have a background in computer science because of this. Despite this point, its connection to the design trade is absolutely crucial, not least as it delivers the framework by which designers can work so as to be sure that their products will connect properly with their target usership.

Literature on Usability Engineering

Here’s the entire UX literature on Usability Engineering by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Usability Engineering

Take a deep dive into Usability Engineering with our course Conducting Usability Testing.

Do you know if your website or app is being used effectively? Are your users completely satisfied with the experience? What is the key feature that makes them come back? In this course, you will learn how to answer such questions—and with confidence too—as we teach you how to justify your answers with solid evidence.

Great usability is one of the key factors to keep your users engaged and satisfied with your website or app. It is crucial you continually undertake usability testing and perceive it as a core part of your development process if you want to prevent abandonment and dissatisfaction. This is especially important when 86% of time on mobiles is spent within apps1 and 79% of users will abandon a website if the usability is poor2! As a designer, you also have another vital duty—you need to take the time to step back, place the user at the center of the development process and evaluate any underlying assumptions. It’s not the easiest thing to achieve, particularly when you’re in a product bubble, and that makes usability testing even more important. You need to ensure your users aren’t left behind!

As with most things in life, the best way to become good at usability testing is to practice! That’s why this course contains not only lessons built on evidence-based approaches, but also a practical project. This will give you the opportunity to apply what you’ve learned from internationally respected Senior Usability practitioner, Frank Spillers, and carry out your own usability tests.

By the end of the course, you’ll have hands-on experience with all stages of a usability test project—how to plan, run, analyze and report on usability tests. You can even use the work you create during the practical project to form a case study for your portfolio, to showcase your usability test skills and experience to future employers!

All literature