The computer system is a tool and the person using it is, a user. In order to attain a specific goal there has to be an interaction between the two. It is the ease of cooperation between the tool and the user that defines the tools usability. Some of the simplest tools are the most usable, i.e. a hammer, its use is intuitive, straightforward and in some cases most rewarding. The concept of usability can be applied to each stage of the systems design. It is especially relevant to this design as the use of the system would be entirely voluntary. A difficult system would discourage new users and repeat use would be minimal, making the system useless.
Cox and Walker (1993), state that there a 4 key characteristics to a good tool, “User Control, Transparency, Flexibility, and Learnability.” Nielson(1993) states “…has multiple components and is traditionally associated with five usability attributes: Learnability, efficiency, memorability, errors and satisfaction” An essential feature of a good tool is that it disappears when it is used. It is as though it becomes an extension of the user. The user is then able to wholly concentrate on the task in hand and not on the tool in use. This would be an ideal case scenario and something we hoped to emulate in our systems design.
Another feature of a good tool is that it is flexible. The system should be able to accommodate a broad range of users, from expert to novice computer users, it should also be flexible enough to allow it to be used by people with both physical and mental disabilities. This can be tied in with the control the user has over the system its ease of use and functionality and the overall difficulty a user has in’ getting to grips with the system’ and being able to learn their way around it and being able to extract the desired information from it.
In order to achieve these goals we had to firstly examine who the users were going to be. The ” Job Finder” system was situated within the confines of The University Of Peat, so it could be assumed, hopefully, its users would be of above average intelligence. It could not be assumed however that all the users would have the same degree of competency in computer use. We could expect a broad range of users from the absolute novice to the expert user.
This was the first usability issue. It was agreed that the interaction between the user and the system was on a personal level, there was only one user at a time and the end result was specific to that person only. In order to progress with the design it was decided to use a graphical user interface. The use of a command line interface was discounted as it was decided that it was difficult to use and inappropriate for our user base.
A graphical user interface would give users a perceived command over the system it allows the user to feel in control and it is a familiar with the computer environment having being adopted by companies such as Microsoft. Several suggestions were mooted, a traditional screen and keyboard only, a screen with mouse only, a screen with keyboard and mouse, a screen with a touch screen, a touch screen with a touch screen keyboard and a touch screen with incorporated keyboard and mouse. It was decided to use a traditional computer screen, keyboard and mouse because it was agreed that this would be the system our users would be most familiar with and therefore it would be easier to use.