How does system design affect usability?

We all use software systems day in day out, but do we ever really think about how easy they are to use, or do we simply get on with the job in hand? Probably the latter, however a good software system will have been graphically designed with usability in mind, not just to look good.

So how does the GUI design really affect the usability of a system?

Well the first point to consider is what is the software used for? Webroster is a productivity application, often used for eight or more hours per day by the same people.

Productivity

Productivity can be enhanced by creating a simple and easy flow for the user to work with. This is achieved by making the design as intuitive as possible through consistent and familiar layouts, icons, fonts and colours. The user will expect to find certain buttons in obvious places and use the system easily without having to read a 100 page support document!

 Wellbeing

If a software system is being used for long periods of time, user wellbeing should be considered (if the user gets a headache after using the system for 30 minutes they probably won’t be renewing their licence!) In the main, this relates to reducing eye strain which can be done by using and not using certain colours as well as the size and style of the fonts. Grey is becoming increasingly widely used in software applications due to it being easier on the eyes than bright white. Large pieces of text should be split into paragraphs and columns to make it easier to read and tables should be laid out as simply as possible.

Data

The primary objective of any software GUI is to display data effectively. Screens are split into different sections for navigation and data display and the design around the data display section can have an effect on how that data is interpreted. For example, colour changes in the background may be good to look at, but it sends a subconscious message to the user that a data field with one colour background is more or less important than another field with a different coloured background. 

Functionality

If the software does not make full use of the screen size it may be wasting space and asking the user to make a lot more clicks than is necessary to get to the information they need. This will have a negative affect on the above two factors. Important and regularly used data should be easily available with minimal clicks, and regularly used buttons should be places towards the top left of the screen.

So, your software may be packed full of very small, subtle design features that you have never knowingly noticed or paid any attention to before. But, it would be fair to say that they have all been carefully planned to subconsciously make the user experience as positive as possible.