Book review: Universal Usability

(This post contains affiliate hyperlinks. Please read my full disclosure.
In the preface to this book Jonathan Lazar makes the argument that universal usability benefits all users. Computer interfaces with usability features have a strong business case to support ecommerce spend. They improve hit rates and provide access across a range of technologies, including mobile devices.
Universal Usability is a collection essays that covers various aspects of inclusive computing. It includes a variety case studies, screenshots and diagrams as well as photos that illustrate good and bad design.
After the chapter is complete, chapters 2, 7, 8, and 9 discuss the needs and interests of children. They focus on children with and not learning disabilities. Chapters 3, 10, and 12 discuss usability principles for an ageing population. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 discuss research and projects related to navigation for blind users.
Chapters 11, 13 and 14 discuss the needs of users with amnesia or spinal cord injuries. Chapters 11-13 and 14 discuss the digital divide and how to ensure low-income users have equal access health and community information. The last two chapters are case studies that deal with accessing US Census information and online text as part of a digital repository. The book closes with a chapter that addresses future usability trends.
The chapters follow a standard format. They present a case study, then present conclusions, and then consider implications for designers, researchers and users. The authors also provide detailed lists of references. This layout makes it easy for readers to navigate the book and find specific sections of interest.
The editor has gathered academic but practical projects that demonstrate how usability impacts users’ interaction with computer systems. It also discusses some ways to address this issue. Each case study emphasizes that the perfect system is not the end goal. Success can be achieved through a series incremental steps. System designers shouldn’t be afraid to include usability features in their systems, even if they are too complicated or costly.
Research in the book shows, for example, that blind users of websites often have trouble using screen reader technology to navigate web applications. It is better to focus on page navigation and forms, which are two areas that are relatively simple, than redesigning an entire application.
Universal Usability discredits the idea that interfaces can only be created for certain user groups. Each case study shows how technology can be tailored to meet the needs of end users by including them in the design group. This often includes a high level of personalization. Although it is not a book you should read from cover to cover, it is essential reading for anyone who works in the accessibility or web design field.
This review has been accepted by The Computer Journal for publication
JONATHAN LAZAAR (Ed), Universal Usability Designing Computer Interfaces For Diverse Users, Wiley 2007. ISBN-13: 978-0-470-02727-1. PS34.99. 610pp. Softbound
SPOTO, The Computer Journal 2007; doi: 10.1093/comjnl/bxm114

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