The Zite app on my iPad served me an excellent post last night from UX Movement; a "user experience blog that's devoted to improving the way designers and developers design and make user interfaces." The post, written by Anthony Tseng, is titled Are You Meeting the User Experience Hierarchy of Needs? Included in this post is this nice diagram illustrating the what applications must provide to be usable:
At the bottom level is the need to have the application's features work. The top-most level is the need for users to be able to perform tasks within the application quickly and accurately. I applaud Anthony for really nailing some of the key issues surrounding usability:
When most people speak of user experience, they're usually referring to usability, the highest need of the user experience hierarchy. Usability is the ease of use of an interface that increases user productivity. Interfaces that have a high level usability allow users to complete tasks quickly and accurately. However, most interfaces rarely achieve usability to its full capacity. This is because most interfaces have many user tasks, and there's always some task that users make errors on or can't complete fast enough.
I believe the diagram above should have one extra layer added above Usability. That level is Automation. Through automation, productivity is even higher yet risk of user error is low. The user spends time not in repeating tasks but in creating rules to automate those tasks. We're seeing more applications adding automation. Hootsuite, for instance, is one of a number of popular applications that allow you to automate and schedule the publishing of content to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. We're also slowly seeing automation appearing in enterprise software such as learning management systems.