UX, Implementation, & Configurability: What is app ‘usability’?

Front End Usability - woman looking at screen

When you think about the apps you use most often, work-related or in your personal life, the ones you think of most highly will all do one thing; they make whatever goal you’ve set out to achieve easy. 

These goals will vary pretty widely, but for example; when you log into your favorite travel booking site, you’ll be looking to book a flight on a certain date for a certain price. That sounds pretty simple – but what separates a great app from the rest is how straightforward that app or website has made your task. It also makes it way more likely that you’ll use the app again and encourage others to do the same. 

It may sound obvious – but the tools you use in your everyday life that you like will inevitably have great user experience; making it easy to accomplish your goals and simplifying the processes required to complete them. 

When it comes to highly configurable and specialized tools like those used for managing large-scale EHS (Environmental, Health, and Safety) programs – there are some best practices that can make the “app for that” experience more user-friendly. And, as any managers know, ease of use is most often the biggest barrier to adoption rates, even for tools with the sole purpose of speeding up processes and improving collaboration. 

What do we mean when we talk about ‘usability’?

Before we get to a few handy tips, let’s cover how we’re defining usability in this example. It may sound simple, but good usability ensures that users can complete their tasks with minimal confusion or diversion. So, within the context of EHS program management, this can translate to a tool that enables a front-line user to complete an audit without referring to external materials. If a user has all the necessary materials to complete the audit in front of them – this makes their task easier. 

You might think that’s an obvious statement – but think about how ultra-configurable tools can support dozens of fields. To someone building the audit and reviewing the data captured, this tool may make it easy to see lots of data captured in audits, making it super user-friendly. 

However, the person conducting the audit may disagree. They may well be able to conduct the audit independent of external materials, but the person building it has asked them to fill out hundreds of fields. Even if they don’t have to click back and forth to find and fill out this information – they’ve been given a monster audit to undertake! Suddenly, the audit, and therefore the tool being used, aren’t so user-friendly after all. 

We’ve hit upon a key issue to discuss when it comes to deciding whether an app is usable, what process will be followed, and if the information gathered is necessary. When left to their own druthers, users will capture an incredibly varied swath of data within their audits – but the information being captured can range from “absolutely vital” to “not useful at all”. 

With so many variables involved, how does someone evaluating an app or other tool decide what to factors focus on? Which ones can we control that will also have the biggest impact on user-friendliness? Let’s start with the big three; the way the solution is built, the way the solution is implemented, and the ways the solution will be used. 

Is ‘usability’ most dependent on build, implementation, or use case?

The short answer to the above is; yes. Good usability is dependent on more than just the three factors described above – but let’s explore how they all impact the experience users have, and how you can best position your programs for a better outcome. 

Build – We’re referring to the very core elements of the product you’re using. So, while you can rest assured that best-in-class solutions, like Cority, have been built by engineers, designers, and experts within the EHS industry, you need to ensure that what you’re trying to achieve is possible. It may sound obvious, but if the product you’re using isn’t built to achieve the goals you’ve set, you won’t find the process user-friendly. 

Implementation – Once you’ve got assurance that the product can do what you need it to do, you need to implement it. To implement effectively, you will need to have a clear vision of how the product will be used and who it will be used by. If you aren’t involving the people that will be using the product, they can’t help identify obvious sticking points and iron out issues.  

Use Case – Let’s return to our example of the audit with dozens of fields. It’s important to remember that just because software can do something doesn’t mean you should make it do it. How many of the fields within your audit are necessary to the final goal? Aim for simplicity – limit and the information you request from end users to only what is necessary. Ensure you aren’t overcomplicating your process without good cause. 

With the above all lined up, you maximize the potential for a good user experience – resulting in a product that makes it easy to complete tasks. This effort also maximizes uptake from users, giving them something that makes their life easier and encourages repeated use. 

Bringing in new technology can seem like a daunting task, but these tips can help you create a solution that fits your company’s needs and sets your users up for success. It takes dedicated people and continuous collaboration to embed, implement, and use software tools – but the rewards are well worth the effort!