Usabilility or Interactivity

This topic arose in a Cre8asite thread on an apparently simple question, “Where do you put your primary navigation?“. Where should your website navigation menu go on the web page?

The intriguing link for me was to Bruce Tognazzini’s Quiz based on Fitts’s Law. His first question is, “So you think you are an interaction designer?” Interestingly Bruce Tognazzi is associated with one of the two major Usability groups, Jakob Nielsen’s. The other important group IMHO is that of Jared Spool.

Why is this intriguing? Well Fitts invented his law in 1954, 50 years ago today. Certainly there was no Internet then and no PC’s and indeed not too many computers of any kind. Fitts’s law came up in ergonomics, the science of how people work. Usability itself is applied not only to websites but also to industrial design of products. This is also true of other terms such as ‘User Experience’.

So it can deal with the design of any product you buy, such as a DVD player. How can it be designed so that the user will find it a pleasure to use? That would sound like an appropriate question to ask about a website too. Well yes, … and no. You can see the website as an object that visitors want to be able to use easily. However it can be seen in a much bigger context.

The Internet’s most exciting function is the ability to allow A to communicate with B, to allow A to interact with B and vice versa. In other words the Internet is primarily about communication. The website is primarily the channel of communication between A and B. A may be a university, or a retail store, or a movie distributor, or your local cinema or an artist. B may be a student, or a customer, or a cinema goer, or an art purchaser. A wishes to interact with B. So the website should be interactive, and indeed may be only part of the total interaction process between A and B.

It’s probably too late to encourage everyone to start talking interactivity rather than usability. However if you think interactivity, you may find you’re asking more of the right questions.