The Elements of Usability

NOVEMBER 12, 2015 // By Meghan Lien

Today, Magenic joins the design and technology communities around the globe in celebrating World Usability Day, an annual event to recognize the importance of creating more usable products and services throughout the world. Usability impacts everyone—making the things in our everyday lives easier, simpler, and more pleasant to use.

The Magenic Studios process is grounded in usability best practices, including these key elements: 1) engaging User Research, and 2) attention to Accessibility. Throughout our process, we can understand the users of an application and provide solutions to satisfy their needs, abilities and limitations. When usability activities are part of any project lifecycle, software development teams can ensure user satisfaction, efficiency, productivity, adoption, trust and ROI.

Return on Investment (ROI) of UX

Integrating UX is not only a benefit to users, it’s a benefit to your brand. Users want to interact repeatedly with easy-to-use applications that have a pleasing design. Brands with exceptional UX win repeat visits, new customers, and increased employee productivity. Investing in UX tells your users you are attentive to their needs & expectations—building trust and ROI. Dr. Susan Weinschenk, a renowned behavioral scientist, authored a whitepaper titled Usability: A Business Case, which outlines three useful equations for calculating ROI:

ROI Error Formula

ROI & Dev Maintenance formula

ROI PRoductivity Formula

Weinschenk also reports that—of the top 12 reasons projects fail—3 of these are directly related to user-centered design work: 1) badly defined requirements, 2) poor communication among customers, developers & users, and 3) stakeholder politics. By engaging UX on your project, you can solve these key pitfalls. Check out her video for more specifics on the ROI of UX.


Magenic Studios tests users by leveraging various scenarios and approaches based on the needs of a particular engagement. Testing can take place in person at Magenic Minneapolis (or other partner facilities) or virtually by means of various online tools and video capture.

One-On-One Interviews or Tests

Interviews are critical in the requirements phase, but also throughout various stages of development. By engaging individual users, we can better gauge unique perspectives and expectations. These sessions can take shape as either non-directed interviews (capturing user wants, needs and motivations) or task-based tests (testing both the existing application, and newly redesigned application via prototype or wireframes).  


In some cases, where direct access to testers is limited, we craft questionnaires in a variety of formats. An industry standard survey method that measures usability is called SUS, the System Usability Scale. This survey consists of 10 questions with a 5-point scale, from Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree. The results are gathered and calculated in a specific way to come up with an overall usability score.

Focus Groups

This informal technique helps assess user needs and feelings both before interface design and long after implementation. We usually bring from six to nine users together for about two hours to discuss issues and concerns about the tasks, features and interaction of a particular system. The session is led by a moderator who maintains the group's focus.

Focus Groups

Contextual Inquiry & Ethnography

Contextual inquiry involves observing what users do as they go about their day—not what they say they do. It’s useful for creating a solution that supports users’ actual (and not supposed) activities. Traditionally, ethnography is performed by observing users in the workplace but can also take place in controlled environments and testing laboratories.

Card Sorting

Card Sorting is used to help organize the architecture of an application by asking users to explore content relationships. In a card sorting session, participants organize topics into groups that make sense to them—establishing the categories that become navigation. By working with users to define related content, you ensure they will be able to navigate the system quickly and easily.

Resources: - Usability Testing  /  Card Sorting  /  Focus Groups  /  Online Surveys  /  Usability: A Business Case /  67 Questions Usability Testing Can Answer 

Tools:  Usability Tools - UX Suite  /   System Usability Scale (SUS)  /  Optimal Sort


A critical element in the usability of an application is accessibility—the design of a product, service, or environment for people with disabilities. Every site and application needs proper understanding, planning, and detailed implementation to account for users with special needs and limitations. Without these measures, these users become excluded. Magenic incorporates several accessibility testing techniques, including:

Screen Reader Technologies

According to a study conducted in 2014, 39 million people worldwide are estimated to be blind. For those users who access and navigate the internet by means of screen readers, it is important to develop your application to facilitate the best experience. When developing the layouts and content of a page, specific elements must be added within the code in order to be referenced by screen readers. Throughout all development stages, testing the site with a screen reading tool is crucial.

Contrast, Font, & Color Blindness Testing

Two additional groups of visually impaired users are those with minor visual impairments and color blindness. For these groups, the accessibility is managed within the UX process. Whenever designing the user interface of an application, we test and develop designs with this checklist in mind:

  • Font Size:  Think about your user demographics and either provide a means for the user to change the size or simply make it bigger to cater to everyone.
  • Contrast:  Many users who struggle with contrast sensitivity won’t experience subtle nuances in a design, so consider readability by bolding important text and avoiding thin fonts. It is especially important to test contrast in various lighting scenarios and environments when designing for mobile.
  • Color: Consider the colors in your design—thinking of users with color blindness. Many times we don’t have control over a client’s branding palette, so at minimum be mindful of action items or status notifications. Try indicating status with shapes in addition to color, and always test your design with color blindness simulators.

Color Chart

Resources:  Intro to Web Accessibility  /   W3C Standards

Tools:  JAWS: The World’s Most Popular Screen Reader  /  Sim Daltonism: Color Blindness Simulator /  Color Contrast Analyser


Usability is the foundation of a project’s success. Today and every day, recognize the importance of the user-centered design process and how it has impacted the applications, products, and services you use every day. Without attention to user research and accessibility, users are unhappy and many projects fail. Magenic Studios and UX-ers across the world understand how people engage with technology and design products that are a joy to own and use.

This post was authored by Magenic Lead UX Designer Meghan Lien with contributions from UX Practice Lead Anthony Handley and Lead UX Designer Jeff Kim. If you’d like to speak to Magenic directly, email us or call us at 877-277-1044.

Categories // User Experience
Tags // User Experience, Usability Testing, World Usability Day, Accessibility, ROI, User Research, Focus Groups, Card Sorting

Get Started

Contact Us