An authoritative text by one of the premier researchers in usability engineering in the 1990s, Jakob Nielsen's Usability Engineering provides a landmark guide to software design that has helped bring this area of research into the mainstream of computing. "Usability" is the measurement of how easy or difficult it is to be productive with a piece of software. It often looks at the user interface--what elements appear onscreen and how efficient, confusing, and/or intuitive they are for beginning, intermediate, and advanced users. "Usability engineering" is the formal study of usability. It grew out of research on human factors, which looked at the way people interact with their environment.
The best thing about this book is its concise, cut-to-the-chase approach when defining usability and ways to measure and improve it. As the author notes, in the old days of computing, documents that attempted to define usability might have over 1,000 rules. The author offers just a handful of guiding principles for creating better software that apply even today. (Published just before the Internet revolution, this book's principles still hold true for Web designers, as well as those who create more traditional applications.)
Throughout this text, the author argues for the benefits of improved software usability. With software use as with all things, time is money and making more efficient interfaces translates into lower personnel costs and more productivity. The book also does a fine job of integrating usability design into the software development process, with guides for planning, working with end users, and running tests with users (whether on videotape or in person). The 50-page bibliography attests to the author's previous research on usability.
For anyone who needs to create better, more efficient software, Usability Engineering can help. This clear and intelligent guide to the science of usability engineering has helped enhance the potential of computers to work with end users more efficiently. In the new century, software developers will undoubtedly seek new advances in usability, in part because of the groundwork laid by books like this one. --Richard Dragan
Topics covered: Usability basics, measuring usability, types of users, history of user interfaces, the usability engineering lifecycle, design techniques, heuristics and hints for improving usability, testing, managing user tests, assessing usability, interface standards, internationalization, and Computer-Aided Usability Engineering (CAUSE) tools. [via]