Usability is something that is becoming more and more important to business, and especially to some of our customers. We have spoken to Gábor Lipa, the usability expert at one of our customers in Hungary, about his role and what usability is about and what we can learn from it.
Gábor, tell us about yourself and your background.
I’ve been working in the field of digital media and web-based applications for more than 10 years now. During this time I have had the opportunity to operate in many areas and positions of web development. As a usability consultant, my responsibility was mainly the ease of use of banking and financial applications, as well as websites. My task was not only designing the user interface of the applications but also the assessment of customer requirements, developing the logical system plan, and so on. After the crisis struck, I began working for a big advertising and digital media company, still as a usability expert, and also as the head of the web development section. This provided me with a whole new perspective and new knowledge. However, designing interfaces remained my passion, so I was glad when Sigma Technology was looking for a person with my expertise for a full-time usability expert job. I’ve never regretted my decision, not just because the job is a fun challenge, but because I am part of an exceptionally amazing team in Sigma Technology.
How did you get interested in this particular area?
I majored in philosophy at university, where my chosen faculty was cognitive science. Since, the human mind and its information processing capability has always been the center of my interest. Nearly 8 years ago, the company where I worked as a content manager at the time brought up the idea to open up in that direction. After self-study and a course held by the “guru” of usability himself, Jakob Nielsen, I was able to start working as a consultant, and was immediately thrown into the deep end. Never satisfied with my current knowledge, my skills are under constant development; through the years I have gained education in various areas of the online world. And, needless to say, I’m a heavy web user and addicted to gadgets, so I’m never too far from a screen.
How would you define user experience? Why has it become so important nowadays?
User experience refers to the overall emotional aspects associated with using technology: user feelings, responses, and perceptions of the interactive product as a whole. Nobody should have to be an expert in order to use a product. If you think like that, you do not respect the user. Believing that the product is so good, that the user should adapt to you and not the other way around, will do you no good. You can have the most sophisticated system with the most ingenious algorithms; if users can’t use it, they won’t. The internet and other software products are relatively new phenomena, and became really accessible to masses of the people beyond the traditional information-specialist circles not so long ago, to people with much lesser IT knowledge.
A product has to take full account of the users’ habits, ways of thinking, and expectations related to the task. The main reason why it isn’t so is that the creators think that they are the users, or at least know what the users are thinking; this is far from the truth. Another important realization is that systems could be more effective and efficient if their design was adapted to the physical and cognitive abilities of their users. Users meet only a small percentage of our work, but that has to be done right.
How do you feel about the importance of usability in the products of your client?
Inadequately-designed user interfaces might result in a number of problems. Even a simple little error might ruin the whole process, and often fixing such an error can be inexpensive and sometimes profitable even. Obviously, the bigger the system, the greater the consequences will be. As for the importance of usability at my client, the effects of a product with counter-intuitive usage grow exponentially, and could be even a deal breaker.
Most of these mistakes and unnecessary added costs can be eliminated by adopting the right usability guidelines through the planning phases. The appropriate investment in usability can multiply the effectiveness of the software, the user benefit, and thus the business efficiency.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
To solve a complex problem with a simple and intuitive solution. Will the users “get it”? Did we set the priorities the same way they would? Are the necessary compromises that we made worth it, or did we make it harder to accomplish the goal, or on the contrary, are we oversimplifying? This is why the user feedback and regular re-evaluations are essential. It’s important, because even the user habits, needs, and expectations are changing constantly, and of course, there is always a place for improvement. This means a continuous “maintenance” of the system and of your knowledge as well.
We would like to thank Gábor for taking the time to share his thoughts with us, and hope that usability is something we can all consider in our work.