Welcome to Anti-Usability Club

The more I think about it, the more I dislike the word "usability", and this abstract construct dubbed "the user".

This is not an entirely enviable stance for me to take. A brief search of my past writings will reveal that I've been downright promiscious in terms of discussing users, and their useiness. So why the change of heart?

Well, think about it:

  • have you ever thought to yourself "my, this website is insanely usable!".
  • Can you even remember the last time you uttered the word"usability" outside of a discussion about usability?
  • Have you ever heard a person who doesn't read web design blogs mention a site's "usability"?['1']

It seems to me that the word "usability" is much like the Tao: though one can speak of usability, the true, and eternal usability can only be nameless. If it had a name, than it would not be of the eternal usable nature.

In short, the sheer broadness of the term has led me to launch the anti-usability club.

The first rule of anti-usability club is that you don't talk about usability.

The anti-usability club is open to everyone. Unless, you don't have a sense of humor. If you are humorless, please find one of our attendents wearing the red vests so that you can be escorted out.

The rest of you are hereby charged to never, ever, ever speak of usability problems again. Why mention usability when you could instead say:

  • The terminology and language that we're using is incoherent, and arbitrary
  • Wow, this application evokes the experience of filling out tax forms, but without the sense urgency or obligation
  • Wait, so who has time to use this again?! And tell me one more time, what does it do?
  • No really... what exactly is that supposed to do?
  • And why does it take 4 clicks to get here?
  • Does anybody ever use this feature? Why is it enabled by default?
  • We could make this look so much sexier, btw.
  • Okay -- I'm not sure I caught it: what's the rational behind the seperation between admin/node, admin/content, admin/content-types, admin/settings/node?
  • The options found under admin/settings -- (I.e. the name of the site, the administrative email address, slogan -- in the context of 20+ menu items, is "settings" the most accurate name we could use?

The only requirement for membership to the anti-usability club is to have read to this point. Welcome to the club.


As Dries, and others have said over and over again -- drupal's future health depends on making it more sexy, friendly, and empowering for those who use it. Sure you could make it "usable", but personally, I'd like it to be more sexy, and friendly instead. Those words feel better, and they actually mean something to me. Maybe its just me. I have a weird habit of taking words somewhat seriously.

Clearly, we know where problem areas are. We even have studies on the stuff. We have groups set up to tackle the issues. And google just gave us $70,000, some of which will be spent funding the solutions to this problem.

The million dollar question is: how do we open source coherence, or elegence -- how do we open source the development of an interface that is self-evident? Its questions like these that make me long for the days when I thought about "usableness".


1. Let's be real: they only said it because they heard you say it.