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What Is Usability Engineering?

Usability engineering is used to determine to what degree a product or prototype will be user-friendly. It often pertains to the field of software development. Read on to learn more about this field.

Defining Usability Engineering

Usability is all about how users interact with technology, and usability engineering studies the human-computer interface (HCI) in depth. Usability engineering requires a firm knowledge of computer science and psychology and approaches product development based on customer feedback. A usability engineer works hand-in-hand with customers, working to develop a better understanding of the functionality and design requirements of a product in order to build more reliable data for it. According to Sun Usability Labs, six general attributes define usability:

  • Utility
  • Learn-ability
  • Efficiency
  • Retain-ability
  • Errors
  • Customer satisfaction

Important Facts About This Field of Study

Degree Levels Bachelor's in Human Centered Design & Engineering, Master's in Information, Master's in Human-Computer Interaction
Online Availability Both fully online and hybrid programs are available for a master's in human-computer interaction programs
Common Courses Design, user research, web technology
Possible Careers Usability engineer, software designer, usability specialist
Median Salary (2018)$105,590 (Software Developers)*
Job Outlook (2016-2026)24% (Software Developers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Usability Evaluation in the Development Cycle

According to Dr. Andreas Holzinger, author of a textbook on software usability engineering, usability must be determined before prototyping takes place. A technique called Usability Context Analysis provides important data for product development. Dr. Holzinger explains that the earlier important design flaws are detected, the greater the chance that these flaws can be corrected.

Types of Usability Evaluation

Usability is evaluated through testing, inspection and inquiry. It is often approached by having users work on typical tasks within the system or prototype. The evaluators use results gained from testing to determine how well the user interface supports the user. The usability inspection approach helps determine any usability-related advantages and negative issues with the prototype. The inquiry process helps evaluators determine users' likes, dislikes and needs, as well as their understanding of the system. Often, inquiry-process feedback is given in written or verbal form.