You call this usability? ‘Cause I don’t!

So, how useless is this?? If you’ve got an email without any formatting in it, you don’t need print preview very badly, do you? I mean, how hard is it, exactly, to figure out what it’s going to look like when it’s printed? When your email is formatted, on the other hand, you’re up a creek. Nice.

I’m pretty sure that Lewis Black would be able to come up with something far more colorful to say about the bozo’s who punted on this feature, but it might not be printable for polite company. Still, this is a pretty lame cop out.

This is a classic case of a user interface usability problem. This is what most people think of when they refer to usability. Interface design and implementation is the most easily-seen, and often the most vividly-felt form of usability we encounter in software development. Plenty of books have been written about this sort of usability. Cooper’s About Face is one of my favorites.

The inspiration for this post was a classic UI usability foible, but this isn’t the only kind of usability you should be aware of. As software developers, we encounter usability in a number of areas beyond the traditional “pretty picture” stuff (apologies to Cooper).

Consider the dynamics of that Outlook dialog, and ask yourself why it’s so immediately identifiable as a usability problem. It’s a disruption. It was supposed to work, and then suddenly, it didn’t. I got angry at Outlook. That’s how I know it’s a usability problem.

I’m going to explore some other aspects of usability in software development in some coming articles, and I think this well-timed error message is a great leaping-off point.

Where do you find usability in unconventional places — in development or otherwise?