As is my habit, when someone new posts a comment to my blog, I like to see if they have a blog and what it has for topics. When Martin Smith made a comment to one of my postings, I noticed he has addressed the topic of “usability”:

I find the topic of usability especially notable from the standpoint that I’ve never heard anyone in our industry mention this concept. In other areas, this is an important topic. For example, I’d attended Boston CHI (Computer Human Interaction – a section of ACM, the Association of Computing Machinery) meetings that presented interesting strategies and topics in software usability. These meetings were always well-attended.

But in our own industry, we become so bogged-down with features and some of the bells-and-whistles that we don’t seem to address the deeper software development issues, such as usability.

As with customer service, it is a topic we are long due to address. After so many years of ignoring both, isn’t it time we begin to discuss them? As a side note, I want to mention that computing issues remain important-enough even today that organizations such as ACM continue to play an important role in software development issues – just not in our industry – which leaves us behind, as usual.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

4 Thoughts to “Software Usability in Laboratory Informatics: Is There Such a Thing?”

  1. Ouch……that hurt. We get pummeled a lot by users who are making a transition from paper to an e system, LMS/ELN…..whatever. Even if they were using an e-system that was non-compliant and did not force any discipline, they seem to blame us for the “increased work”. They do not seem to realize that change in the transition is inevitable. Every extra click needed is resented and seen as a ‘usability’ issue. Stuff which they are used to putting a line through on paper and requires an e-sig for audit trail purposes, they resent…….the list goes on. So if usability is not an issue for you guys……….tell me where you live and I will shift! (or work for you). The good part is that it has made us very conscious when designing, about what is absolutely needed and in advance, whether and how the customer objections are going to be handled.

  2. As an entirely different example, as an industry, we take compliance seriously. We attend seminars on it, read articles on it, and discuss it as a general topic. We do more than address it on a project-by-project basis.

    By contrast, how many times have you heard our industry discuss usability as a general topic outside a particular project? How many times have you seen a listing for a seminar on the topic at one of our industry conferences?

    I agree with you that we can’t solve every keyclick, but if users beat us up on the topic, have we given them any sign, as an industry, that we really have a handle on this issue? Until we do, I doubt that single-project efforts will be enough to convince users.

  3. I agree completely with you. We have generally neglected usability when we should be paying more attention to it since it can affect productivity and acceptance of change in a major way. I think most programmers go by some general yardsticks and focus at the most on aesthetics. I must confess that a visit we made to a consultants office who specialized in usability was pretty intimidating by the sheer enormity of the way they wanted to take charge ( and charge) for their inputs on usability aspects of our software.

    I am sure that if we did focus on the need we could make some significant progress, but like I am finding out in my other discussions, the need (read cost) for the same (and it will cost) will come only if the senior management sees it as a priority. Till then it will be something we will blog about I guess

  4. df

    I completely agree with that!

    Usability is more than just a glossy GUI. Usability has a lot to do with the processes going on behind the scenes. If you can’t support the process or even worse interfere with the processes in the lab, your software isn’t usable – whatever the GUI looks like!

    Hoewever, the user interface has to follow a couple of rules and principals such as the ones mentioned under Heuristic Evaluation:
    or in general the following rules:

    Usability is not only “a feature”, it can be the product itself! e.g. iPhone!

    Cheers DF

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