Software Usability

We’re currently in the process of sorting out a new intranet at JISC so that programme managers, amongst others, can very easily access information about the ever-increasing portfolio of projects that we deal with every day.  For those who have dealt with JISC for a while, you’ll know that this is massively long overdue and should provide what we need to help cope with our own data deluge ;-).

So, it was with a great deal of happiness that I saw one of the first areas that was covered was usability.  Again, for those of you who know me it’s a subject that I regularly get up onto my soapbox about as I think it’s absolutely critical for good quality software.  Even the best written code can be let down by a shonky user interface that hasn’t involved the user but is ‘functionally perfect’; it’s not the greatest of starts and often leads to a system being dropped before it even gets off the ground.  We’re now into the second round of providing input into the usability of the system and I’m really hoping that what I’ve seen so far makes it through to the final system and we get an intranet that is both usable and useful.

This brings me onto usability and JISC-funded projects.  Whilst we are always going to cover bleeding edge software that’s going to be sub-Alpha, never mind perpetual Beta, we’re increasingly funding projects to deliver software for use by users rather than proof of concept.  That means usability is really, crucially important and that the user has to be involved.  If I had one piece of advice to give to new projects producing software to be consumed by users (and some of my own projects are doing this as we speak) then it would be to get the usability right and adoption by any community will be a lot easier.  It’s a lesson a good deal of successful open source products such as Firefox have learnt and thrived on; I’m hoping it’s one that my own and  several other projects within e-Research learn too.