School of Information Systems

Eight Golden Rule- Cater to Universal Usability

Universal Usability is the design of things such that they are useful to as many people as possible. For example, a sidewalk may be designed for people with disabilities, baby carriages, bicyclists, commercial deliveries, and to protect pedestrians from vehicles such as cars, motorcycle, truck, etc. Universal design is a move away from design for the “Average” person by considering wide variety of diverse use cases.

In designing application interfaces, an interface designer must consider the type of user variation. Both in terms of cultural and linguistic background, also variations in the level of user understanding of the application. At this point what is more often considered is the difference in user culture, so applications must be designed in a variety of languages. It does not have to be this way, but it is more effective if universal usability is applied to variations in the level of user understanding of the application. Users who are new to applications, or users who are used to using applications, certainly have different interface preferences, for example there are shortcuts for certain functions for users who have used the application frequently, so that it can make it easier for users to use these functions.

There are three major challenges to universal usability:

1. Supporting a broad range of hardware, software, and network access. With the advance of ICT, users’ hardware, software, and network configurations are changing. The variety of ICT products creates complex systems with a broad range of hybridity. For example, would a software product be usable to users running Windows XP on a Centrino laptop with broadband Internet access and to those who have Windows 98 on a Pentium II desktop with 56K dial-up?

2. Accommodating individual differences among users, such as age, gender, disabilities, literacy, culture, income, and so forth. Individual differences can be roughly categorized into three types: physical, cognitive, and socio-cultural. In the field of HCI, research attempts have been centering on accommodating physical and cognitive differences by isolating various specific factors such as spatial ability, speed of movement, eye–hand coordination, and so forth. However, previous literature has demonstrated that individual differences are difficult to pin down and difficult to generalize from one context to another.

3. Bridging the knowledge gap between what users know and what they need to know about a specific system. Two issues need to be resolved: (i) Building a user model to access individual user’s background knowledge on a specific system; (ii) Integrating the mechanism of evolutionary learning.

Sarah Horton has developed a set of universal usability guidelines for web design. The basic principles are:

– Design simply: Design simple sites, emphasizing important elements and using simple structures and clean, standards-based markup.

– Build well: Take full advantage of these inherent properties, such as fallbacks, flexibility, and user control, to construct universally usable Web sites.

– Favor HTML over other formats: HTML is the best format for universal usability. Provide documents in nonstandard formats, such as PDF and Flash, only as an alternative to accessible html.

Current trends in universal usability research include:

a. Multimodal or adaptive user interface

b. Universal usability of commercial and e-government websites

c. Interface solutions for older adult users and users with disabilities

d. Contextualization of universal usability


Joni Suhartono