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Usable Usability: Simple Steps for Making Stuff Better by Eric Reiss

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Chapter Two Responsive

Watch and listen to two people engaged in conversation, and you’ll notice one does the talking, the other the listening. They’ll take turns reversing these roles, repeating the pattern until the conversation is over. You’ll also notice how the listener is sending discreet signals in response to the speaker. Some of these responses are visual—a nod of the head, a frown, a smile, a hand gesture. Other responses are auditory—a laugh, a grunt, a “Hmm,” or some other noise. Occasionally, the response is tactile—a pat on the back, for example. In all instances, sensory feedback is a critical part of effective communications—and to good usability.

Of course, sensory feedback in areas other than conversation can include any of our five senses; we smell the fresh-brewed coffee and know it’s ready to drink; parents put bitter drops on their children’s fingers to keep them from biting their nails. But whatever response mechanisms are present in our stuff, they must be appropriate, timely, and understood—for example, having our phone vibrate when we switch it to silent during a meeting.

When response mechanisms are inappropriate or lacking entirely, usability invariably suffers—imagine a phone that only vibrates and is unable to ring. Sound silly? You’ll be surprised at the number of times appropriate responses are not provided during the course of your day—from something simple, such as the baristas forgetting to tell you that your cappuccino is ready, to something ...

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