Simple things to improve usability – reduce workload

The biggest misconception about usability is that you would always need to have real test users to improve the user experience. There are however more economical ways to make improvements into your application’s user interface. Today we are going to take a look at workload and missing information content.

First, think about a common task a user might to with your application. For example, if you are developing a calendar application, a common task might be setting up a meeting for the Thursday next week at 18.15 (or 6.15 PM). You are going to do this example task when we talk about mechanical work. 📅

Mechanical work

Every time a user interacts with the system, he is doing mechanical work. This can be inputing text to a field, scrolling down a web page, clicking on a button and so on. This is something we want to reduce. Now, try to mark the calendar entry from the task I described earlier on your phone starting from the home screen. And count each interaction (including opening the calendar app). How many interactions did it take for you to set up the meeting? For me it took 12 interactions, which is quite a lot. 😮

Our ultimate goal is to have as little mechanical work as possible. A way of doing this is to make the most commonly needed information visible to the user. This means opening up menus and bringing information a step closer. Let’s think about an online food service menu that gives you a list of their dishes that includes the name and the price of the dish and a link to see the ingredients. If you have no allergies or other dietary restrictions, this might work. But if you need to check for each dish whether it contains a certain ingredient or not, you can imagine the amount of clicks! A solution: bring the ingredients to the listing directly and don’t hide them behind a link. 😊

Cognitive work

When a user has to remember things or do costly cognitive operations in his head like count a discount percentage, we are dealing with cognitive work. Think about the restaurant menu example. In addition to clicking a link to see the ingredients the user has to remember which dishes were suitable for him. So writing the ingredients directly in the listing not only reduces the mechanical work but also the cognitive work. A better way of reducing cognitive work would be to introduce a filter for excluding dishes with unwanted ingredients. This way the user doesn’t have to remember anything related to the ingredients while browsing the menu.

Sometimes the information might be there, but it’s hidden in long paragraphs of text. That’s why using bolding to highlight the important information might be helpful as it reduces the time it takes to find the needed piece of information. 🤓

Missing information content

In order to find the issue of missing information content, one has to come up with a detailed enough task description. For example, a user wants to find a cheap hotel close to the city center, but in a particular area of the city. Some hotel booking sites let you only list hotels by distance to the city center, but they do little in telling you about the location of the hotel (in relation to other cheap alternatives). If you find yourself looking for hotels and having google maps open at the same time, we are dealing with missing information content. You simply have to consult an external service to complete your task.

A way of tackling this is to design the interface in such a way that the user can actually get all the relevant information easily. I especially like hotels.com‘s solution that lets you see all the hotels in a map and with highlighting by their price. Such an interface lets you complete the task described above without relying on external services. ☺️

Conclusion

These are some of the things to look at when improving a user interface. Of course, you can get more out of them if you know your user’s goals well. But these tricks will improve the user experience even if you only had a partial understanding of what the users want. 😊

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