Usability Interface

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Read the Instructions

by David Dick
Reprinted from Usability Interface, Vol 7, No. 4, April 2001

My father taught me valuable lessons that I will never forget. He taught me how to maintain the family car, how to fix household appliances, and how to use garden equipment. Although would show me how to perform the task, he would stress that I read the instructions. His philosophy was based on the belief that instructions are written to teach and to prevent mistakes. What does this have to do with usability?

Instructions (also referred as procedures) should be easy to use, easy to understand, reflect best practice, and be written according to the context of use. Identifying the context of use is critical to designing instructions for usability. For example:

Another aspect of designing instructions for usability is to understand how people use instructions.

Moral of this story—Do all that you can to design instructions for usability but don’t overlook theuser’s responsibility to read the instructions.


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Last updated 27 January 2004