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Mobile usability testing: problems and solutions

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What usability is So what is usability?

ISO standard defines usability as "the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use".

The key words here are the last three - effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction while working with a program.

What is usability composed of and what does it give to a user? There are several interpretations. We will not go into theoretical details here. Let's emphasize the points which are crucial for product success in the market.

So an interface is "usable" if it has:
* Aesthetic appeal and gives satisfaction when using the product. If the product is not considered aesthetically appealing, up-to-date and fancy (of course, it depends on a specified context of use and is not the same for games and office suite), the chances that a user will buy it are poor. If a software product didn't pass such face-control and was not bought, all the rest including functionality simply loses meaning.
* Simplicity and intuitive intelligibility of the interface (respectively, quick learning capability). Nobody would like the idea of sitting for several hours in order to learn and memorize one and only operation. If there are other programs that give the same result and can be mastered on the first attempt, one would prefer this more simple and user-friendly system.
* Ease and forethought of control elements, menu, dialog windows order, hot keys and so on which provide high speed of work with the program.
Due to this the program can be used with minimum time and effort consumption. For instance, in business applications this means higher labor efficiency of user.
* Taking into account scientific recommendations will provide little user fatigability when working with the program. Again, this means high labor efficiency of the user within long time. Such advantage of the system is fun-damental for many corporate customers.
* At last (but not least), Friendliness and user support (and, consequently, minor user errors).


This point is tightly related to the pre-vious one. It is vital in such cases as medical systems, systems of production and transport control, accounting and analytical business applications, as well as many others, where the price of correcting a mistake can be too expensive.

Basic standards of the user interface How are qualitative user interfaces created?

There exists a range of guides and standards providing a set of recommendations on the development and testing of user interfaces.

Here are some of the usability standards and guidelines:
ISO 9241-11:1998 Ergonomic requirements for office work with visual display terminals (VDTs);
Section 508 standard - Web-based Intranet and Internet Information and Applications
(Rehabilitation Act, 1194.22);
Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) recommendations.

ISO basic standard defines the term "usability" and describes definitions related to it. It expands the general principles of usability and also contains particular recommendations.

For Internet-applications there exists 508 Standard. It describes methods of building static and dynamic web-pages. In MSDN one can get acquainted with the rules of building user interfaces according to Microsoft ideology (for both Microsoft Windows and Pocket PC / Windows Mobile platforms).

Mobile standards
Currently mobile technologies are developing very quickly. Handhelds have their peculiarities crucial to ensure usability. This is the reason why special guides and recommendations on usability for mobile platforms have been created. Here are some of them:
Symbian S60 Platform Visualization and Graphic Design Guideline;
UIQ Style Guide;
Palm OS User Interface Guidelines.

To illustrate "usable" handhelds distinctions let's consider the following examples.

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Mobile usability testing: problems and solutions