Design

What Does User-Friendly Really Mean?

User-friendly is an old-school term that entered the mainstream at the dawn of the personal computer. Computers existed for decades before they became a part of our everyday lives, but they were relegated to the world of the select few who had the training and mindset to understand them. Today, the vast majority of us carry around incredibly powerful, valuable devices – devices that are so user-friendly, most of us aren’t required to have any idea how they actually work.

A very early all-in-one personal computer isolated on a white background

Early PCs revolutionized daily life – they were so user-friendly, average people could have them in their homes.

‘User Friendly’: A Common Term, But What Does it Mean?

Defined as “anything that makes it easier for novices to use a computer,” a good example of a major advance in user friendliness was the menu-driven system, as opposed to command-driven systems that came before. Very few people can communicate with computers by entering commands in the form of codes, whereas just about anyone can navigate a menu on an interface with a mouse.

A psychologist who studies how people interact with technology told Computer Weekly that when the “user-friendly” iPod debuted, crushing all portable music competition, it was not the circular touchpad that made the device so intuitive, it was the iTunes software on which it was based.

User-Friendly Software: Critical to the Healthcare Field

As discussed in the article “How to Tell If Your EHR System is User-Friendly,” user-friendly software is never more important than it is in the medical field. The sheer volume of records that health professionals must collect, sort, house, maintain and share with entities such as insurance companies requires them to have intuitive, simple and effective software systems. These systems, called electronic health records (EHR) systems, play a large role in determining how efficiently a hospital or private doctor’s office will run.

User-Friendly Software: In the Business World

According to one tutorial, it is critical for businesses to remember that different people have different needs and backgrounds. One department might find software to be “user-friendly,” but people in another department might struggle with the exact same application. In today’s mobile world, it is critical to make sure that software retains functionality across multiple devices. It does no good if software that is user-friendly on a desktop is buggy and difficult on a tablet. Finally, focus on visual appeal. Crisp, uncluttered interfaces are almost always easier to navigate than those that try to jam too much information into one page.

Couple Using Cell Phone and PDA

Today’s devices are so user friendly that each mini-computer becomes personalized to the user who owns it.

Our world is flooded with user-friendly devices backed by software that makes them even more intuitive and natural. Computer novices – including untrained children – can quickly and easily learn to operate incredibly powerful and complicated devices. The companies that will succeed in the near future are the ones that create software that unifies all of our devices in a user-friendly way.

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Born in the Boston area in 1959, I started writing in 1985. I live in Nashua NH with my wife and three cats. We have four kids in our blended family. I am an utter geek who's into gaming, horror, SF/fantasy, the Red Sox, trains, running, history, and a bunch of other things.

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