Steve Martin

Designer, Thinker, Student of Human Behavior

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The Usability Virus

When Solomon said "With much wisdom comes much sorrow" I know he wasn't exactly talking about website usability, but wow, was he right. Website usability is like a virus. You go along for most of your life, happily (or not) clicking through websites, finding (or not) the stuff you're looking for, never really thinking about the usability of the sites you encounter every day. Sure, some websites are hard to use, but you think "it's probably just me" or you simply click back to Google and go to the next site, hoping you can figure it out this time.

Then someone comes along and, in their most helpful and innocent voice, teaches you all about "Usability" (with a capital "U"). They explain that, no, it's NOT just you - these offending sites should know better or at least should do something about it. They even show you how easy it would have been for these sites to be tested to find problems, and how easy and cheap that really could be!

Now you're in trouble. You've got the virus, and there is no cure.

Basic symptoms include:

  • inability to visit a website without silently critiquing its usability issues
  • complaining (often loudly to those in the room with you) about how "HORRIBLE 'Brand X's' website is, although they've OBVIOUSLY spent tens of thousands of $$'s on it!!"
  • emailing examples of bad websites to the person who gave you the virus in the first place
  • lying awake at night worrying about the usability of your OWN website, and if others with the virus are secretly laughing at you

Advanced symptoms:

  • a voice in the back of your mind telling you that you can't rest until all existing usability problems have been remedied
  • your obsession with "Usability" bleeds over into the "real" world, and you start to stay things like, "The button on that coffee maker is REALLY not in the right place. Where's that customer service number?!"
  • your spouse tells you to "get over it" and "just change the stinking diaper and quit griping", etc.

So yes, Solomon, the more you know about Usability, the more annoyed you're going to be with the web. But do not fear: Together we, the infected, can make the world a happier and more usable place to be. We shall overcome!!