I was recently posed with the (apparently common) assertion that Interaction Designers are part of some kind of charade. The idea was that there is no actual science behind usability study and that we’re all just “Apple Bandwagoners” trying to conform the masses to a company’s brand standards. I couldn’t disagree more.
Usability is a complex but measurable characteristic of the way we interact with almost everything in our world. It is one of many characteristics (Like accessibility), but still one of them. Just because Apple has placed usability as a strong design principle in their product and service development does not mean that they now own usability. In-fact, (As far as I’ve been told) Apple doesn’t actually do any usability testing on their products. They just design with it in mind in the first place.
The study of the User Experience in each and every instance is unique to that instance. The usability of an interface on the weapons systems of a B-2 Bomber aircraft will not include rounded edges, candy colored surfaces, soft gradients or bouncing icons. However, the need for the interface to be usable is extremely high–such that unintended targets could be threatened by a lack of usability. Reducing cognitive load in environments where multiple instances of the perception process are at play is a seminal goal in this rapidly growing age of information.
Whether it is improving the effectiveness and efficiency of a user experience with a word processing program or a missile targeting system: there is an absolute need for usability studies as we move ever-faster into a digitally dependent world. Sometimes those interfaces embody simplicity which will remind users of other products (Like the iPad and it’s one button), but that is not to say that the interface in question was designed to replicate an Apple branding.
Photo Credit: http://socialmediaseo.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/apple-brand1.jpg