Focus on the user experience

Focus on the user experience

Summary: Little things like poor placement of USB ports in a notebook computer, or bad layout of radio buttons on a Web registration page, can affect the user experience.Do you wonder why it doesn't take just three clicks but more, to find what you're looking for on your latest mobile phone?

TOPICS: Browser

Little things like poor placement of USB ports in a notebook computer, or bad layout of radio buttons on a Web registration page, can affect the user experience.

Do you wonder why it doesn't take just three clicks but more, to find what you're looking for on your latest mobile phone? Is it you, or is it just a poorly designed product with bad labeling?

I recently got to know three gentlemen who are passionate about usability, and are looking to help businesses in Singapore--and Asia--create products that offer great user experiences. Gul Khan, Timothy Yeo and Raven Chai have set up a usability company called UserX, and they, based on their experiences, believe there is more to usability than what's prescribed by Jakob Nielsen.

In response to my article "Usability makes business sense", Yeo wrote in his blog that "people are different"--they have different goals, different attitudes and, ultimately, different behaviors. "If you design to please everybody, you please nobody."

These guys, as well as Nielsen, have piqued my interest. Usability can help online publishers including ZDNet Asia, better meet the needs of their readers. For example, how can ZDNet Asia make it easier for people to contribute to the site? According to one of Nielsen's studies, in most online communities, 90 percent of users are "lurkers" who never contribute, 9 percent of users contribute a little, and 1 percent of users account for almost all of the action.

And how do we compete for users' attention in the wake of inbox congestion? Nielsen found that e-mail newsletters are still the best way to maintain customer relationships on the Internet, but the challenge is to understand today's "choosy" readership who, according to the Nielsen study, "skip the introductory blah-blah text in newsletters". The report found that "although this text was only three lines long on average, our eyetracking recordings revealed that 67 percent of users had zero fixations within newsletter introductions".

Based on Nielsen's research, I'd be very lucky if 30 percent of our e-newsletter subscribers get past the first two words. The average time allocated to a newsletter after a reader has opened it was only 51 seconds, in Nielsen's study. Often, users don't scan the entire newsletter. Most people skim a small part of the newsletter or glance through the content.

What do you think of usability? Would you be interested in a column that discussed usability issues? Drop me an e-mail, and tell me what you'd like to know or how ZDNet Asia can improve your user experience.

Topic: Browser


Eileen Yu began covering the IT industry when Asynchronous Transfer Mode was still hip and e-commerce was the new buzzword. Currently a freelance blogger and content specialist based in Singapore, she has over 16 years of industry experience with various publications including ZDNet, IDG, and Singapore Press Holdings.

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  • Dear Isabelle, usability is a common-sense when you uncover it and that is what makes it profound. We start to realise that we respond in ways which we didn
  • Usability goes hand-in-hand with design and focus. It's true that you can't please everyone. But as Sandra's right, usability and user experience is based on common-sense, but here's the rub: I see blue, you see blue, but we see it in different hues. ZDnet-specific: When I visit websites and read articles, I tend to use the spacebar to advance down the page instead of the scroll keys, but sites like ZDnet don't allow that automatically. The cursor is automatically defaulted into the Search bar, where it blinks, and when a user presses space, nothing happens to the webpage. The user has to click on any non-active space on the page with the mouse, before using the spacebar to scroll down. Not painful, but doesn't facilitate reading.
  • Hi Alvin, this is great feedback. Keep it coming.
  • Just wanted to add a note on usability, more specifically with regards to cellphones. These days there're showrooms that allow people to fiddle around with phones before they make a purchase. But it used to be that people only bought them based on the aesthetics of a phone, rather than how well it handled. Many a friend (and stranger I've spoken to at M1 and SingTel shops) have dumped their newly purchased mobile because of usability issues.

    There has been a lot of improvement in the cellphone industry, but it has taken a relatively long time for mobile phone companies to get there with better UI...and to offer consumers a way of playing with a mobile before making a decision.

    So, yes. Sometimes design is everything. And it's also why Apple's the gold standard. They don't just make beautiful products, but practical and usable gizmos that are a joy to use.

    Its operating system, OS X, for example, is a smart, intuitive environment, whereas Microsoft's version of "smart" is to bombard users with dialog boxes. As I write this, I am interupted by my boss who has no clue how to work the latest version of Microsoft Office because the entire interface has changed. Is this better? Maybe. But if she needs to complete the presentation in an hour's time, it's not going to happen.