Lorenzo Mutti, User Experience Director, Unic AG

Usability – a Key Discipline in the Digital World

In the Best of Swiss Web category rankings, Unic leads one of the top disciplines: sbb.ch secures the golden buoy in the category usability. With the fourth usability gold in a row, we are the undisputed leader in this category. Time to talk to Lorenzo Mutti, UX Strategist at Unic, about usability principles, the love of detail, the danger of losing sight of the big picture, and the value of human centered design.

Success factor usability

Lorenzo, we are the undisputed number 1 in the Best of Swiss Web category usability. What is the secret of success?

To listen, to understand, to specify, to build, to check and to do it all over again. But that's not a secret, is it? We have always attached great importance to usability and began early on to implement this aspect in our design process and to weight it accordingly. Another factor that should not be underestimated is certainly the maturity and thus the quality of frontend engineering, which makes a major contribution to usability. Especially when it comes to accessibility – a criterion that is a must for federal companies such as SBB or Swiss Post – the frontend code is crucial for good usability. In general, we should not lose sight of the accessibility aspect.

What distinguishes good usability?

By definition, the usability of a product or service means the extent to which it can be used by a particular user to achieve specific goals effectively, efficiently and satisfactorily in a particular context. Basically it has a lot to do with craftsmanship, which was carried out cleanly and with attention to detail.

What has changed in this discipline in the last 5 years?

Usability has not become easier. There is the risk is to get lost in too much detail and to lose sight of the big picture. Users and their needs and requirements are constantly evolving – and that's a good thing. User Experience expands the term usability to include aesthetic and emotional factors such as an appealing, «desirable» design, aspects of confidence building or joy of use. These criteria must also be taken into account. The holistic approach includes the entire user experience that one experiences when using a service or product. Users should not only reach their goals efficiently, but also experience positive feelings such as fun or joy in use – always depending on the respective application. Last but not least, general conditions such as the chosen technology or the possibility of integrating the user into the validation process make a significant contribution to perception.

Gold in Usability at the Best of Swiss Web Award Night 2018
Gold in Usability at the Best of Swiss Web Award Night 2018

The challenges of usability principles

What challenges are there repeatedly to master with regard to usability in projects?

Customer journeys are becoming increasingly complex. The context of use changes during the user's journey in many different ways and demands cognitive perception even before the point of contact with the digital product or service. For this reason, all parties involved are well advised to strive for a «simple» solution. It is our task to break down the complexity to the necessary minimum and to simplify it for the user. For this to happen, the first thing you need to understand is the problem completely – or as well as possible – before you start building a solution. To achieve this, everyone involved must be brought on board early – including the customer/client – and we must ensure that we all pursue the same goal. This requires active expectation and requirements management at all levels. Everyone and I mean really everyone (customer, user, designer, developer...) have requirements to consider.

Do you give decision makers of digital projects a few tips? What are the most important usability principles that must be taken into account in a project?

As a rule, good usability is not explicitly perceived – but bad usability is. Therefore: Give the problem enough time to solve, involve the different stakeholder groups early and regularly, let the users test several times. A high quality frontend is important, listen carefully and always try to take the necessary external view, even if one or the other wall has to be torn down. It's worth it and the joy of the users will thank you or your product!

Which methods can be used to really implement these usability principles?

Human Centered Design is firmly anchored as the basic procedure in our conception process. The conceptual designers do not see HCD primarily as a process but as a philosophy for approaching projects. We have a set of methods that we are working on step by step. Methods help, but in the end they are only a means to an end. The interaction of the different roles in the project and their maturity is decisive. The team decides – on the basis of its experience – with which methods in the concrete case the goal can be achieved in the best possible way.

Usability gained importance in the 1990s through Jacob Nielsen. What changes will shape the discipline in the future? Where is the journey going?

In the future we will be confronted with new technologies, interfaces and services. Just think of mixed reality (AR, VR, speech interfaces), which will dramatically change human-machine interaction. The graphical user interface still forces us to deal with technology in an abstract way, not really close to people. This will change dramatically with such new approaches. To what extent the developments will influence the discipline of usability is still difficult to assess. We will try out many new things, new best practices will have to be established – it is a constant cycle of reinventing ourselves. But what I can say for sure, it remains exciting and we will hang in there!