Usability doesn’t mean UI

I have mentioned many times that the latest, coolest UI technology doesn’t mean that an application has good usability. Good design requires ingenuity and creativity but it also requires discipline and a focus on details.

I you want to check how seriously a vendor takes usability, do this simple test. Have a look at the error messages. I’m not talking here about witty 404 errors, but the stuff that happens when the payroll currency  conversion field is incomplete.

If they are up to date, accurate and easy to to understand, chances are the application is too. If there are spelling mistakes, missing entries and unintelligible codes then the vendor’s commitment to usability is skin deep. 

Error messages aren’t hip, glamorous, or agile, but they are a window into the development ethos. Error messages are the canvas in a suit. 

Ask for a list of all error messages when you do your next vendor evaluation. You will learn more about the vendor’s commitment to usability and product quality than you will fathom from a slick demo.

2 thoughts on “Usability doesn’t mean UI”

  1. Thomas,

    Excellent blogpost. While Twitter’s Fail Whale is an epic example of Social Media Branding, such error messages are not helpful in office productivity webapps. Recently I was looking at the web app and the error messages were terrible – an non-descriptive “Access Denied” for all types of error messages.

    Usability is a combination of UI, UX, and WCAG.


  2. One of the best examples I can remember is MSWindows popping up a box saying.

    “An unexpected error has occurred”

    With the only option being to click “OK”

    Apparently the system just wanted a little affirmation.

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