International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics 28 (2001) 143–151

Usability of consumer electronic products
Sung H. Han*, Myung Hwan Yun, Jiyoung Kwahk, Sang W. Hong
Department of Industrial Engineering, Pohang University of Science and Technology, San 31, Hyoja, Pohang, 790-784, South Korea Received 23 March 1999; received in revised form 11 October 1999; accepted 18 January 2000

Abstract The concept of usability has been applied to the design and evaluation of software user interfaces in which user performance was the major issue for improvement. Recently, it is being applied to consumer electronic products because companies consider it an important key to their success. However, there is a difference in the concept of usability between the two applications. Unlike the software user interfaces, the image/impression felt by the users are as important as the performance for a consumer electronic product to be successful. It is therefore necessary to redefine the concept. Although a variety of new concepts have been suggested, there is no widely acceptable one. This study provides a new definition of usability applicable to the consumer electronic products. It defines the usability as the degree to which the users are satisfied with the product with respect to both the performance and the image/impression. In addition, it classifies dimensions that can explain various and complex aspects of the usability. The results of this study are expected to provide a framework for designing and evaluating the user interface of consumer electronic products. Relevance to industry This study presents the definition of usability of consumer electronic products and its dimensions. They can be used in the design and evaluation stages of a product development process. In addition, they would be helpful in understanding the user requirements systematically. r 2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Usability; Consumer electronic products; Performance; Image and impression; Usability dimensions

1. Introduction Almost every home has one of the consumer electronic products such as a videocassette recorder (VCR), a compact disk player (CDP), or a digital videodisk (DVD) player. Although some people are poor at using them, even a frequent user is not able to use every function of them without referring to the manual. Some functions remain
*Corresponding author. Tel.: +82-54-279-2203; fax: +8254-279-2870. E-mail address: shan@postech.ac.kr (S.H. Han).

untouched until the end of the product life. It is partly because there are too many functions. Some users do not even recognize those functions exist. In many cases, however, the main reason is that he/she gives up using them after a few trials because they are difficult to learn and use. Usability of a product is now one of the most important factors that the users consider in purchasing a product as well as functionality, price, after sales service quality, and so on (Dumas and Redish, 1994). Also, there is a legislation that requires hardware and software to meet certain standards with respect to systems usability and

0169-8141/01/$ - see front matter r 2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved. PII: S 0 1 6 9 - 8 1 4 1 ( 0 1 ) 0 0 0 2 5 - 7

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usefulness (Stewart, 1991). To cope with these user and legal requirements, industries and companies are struggling for usability. Now usability is called a business phenomenon (Rubin, 1994). Usability is a well-known and well-defined concept in the human-computer interaction (HCI) research. The concept has been applied to improve the usability of software user interfaces (Gould and Lewis, 1985; Mantei and Teorey, 1988; Nielsen, 1993; Shneiderman, 1992; Mayhew, 1992). Borrowing the concept from the HCI area, many companies attempt to apply it to improve the usability of their consumer electronic products (Caplan, 1994; Logan, 1994; Jordan, 1997). Usability was originally defined as the degree of efficiency and effectiveness of use within a specified range of users, tasks, tools, and environment (Bennet, 1984; Shackel, 1984). This abstract definition was decomposed into several dimensions to measure the degree of usability quantitatively during the engineering development process (Gould, 1988; Booth, 1989; Dumas, 1989; Shackel, 1991, 1986; Chapanis, 1991). A good example was provided by Shackel (1986) who suggested four dimensions of usability: effectiveness, learnability, flexibility, and attitude. Sometimes usefulness was added to the dimensions (Booth, 1989), although it was often argued that it should be assessed independently (Lindgaard, 1994; Nielsen, 1993). Recently, the concept of usability is undergoing a major change. The subjective aspect of usability is relatively more emphasized than it used to be. This is because products without emphasizing it are not accepted by the users. Research studies have been conducted to reflect it in terms of behavioral and emotional factors in the design of consumer products (Nagamachi, 1995; Logan, 1994; Hofmeester et al., 1996; Jordan, 1997). Although these studies have attempted to extend the usability concept, there is no widely acceptable one. This study attempts to define a new concept of usability applicable to the consumer electronic products. The new definition of usability suggested in this study is different from the traditional one in the HCI area. That is, the subjective aspect, named image and impression, is emphasized as much as the objective one. In addition, it classifies dimen-

sions to explain various and complex aspects of the new usability concept.

2. Usability of consumer electronic products As stated above, the concept of usability was originally used to measure how easy and efficient it was for a user to perform tasks by using a product in the HCI area (Bennet, 1984; Shackel, 1984). Lindgaard (1994) reported that typical usability problems of software identified seemed to be the performance problems such as the poor task performance resulting from poor navigation design, bad screen design and layout, unsuitable feedback, lack of consistency, etc. That is, the traditional definition of usability emphasized the performance aspect. Recently, as the consumer electronic products get intelligent, their usability is arousing more interests. A natural question then arises. Should we use the same usability concept used in the HCI area for designing and evaluating the consumer electronic products? One of the important reasons we cannot apply the traditional concept of usability to the consumer electronic products is that they are quite different from a software product. The consumer electronic product is a hybrid system that is made up of many different components. Some of them are hardware (i.e. physical) components and others are software (i.e. logical) components. For example, a typical VCR has a small built-in display, a videocassette tape loader, several buttons, and indicators, which are hardware components. On the other hand, some functions are organized as a menu, and icons are often used to represent the functions. Thus, the concept of usability applicable to the consumer electronic products should be flexible so that various types of interface components could be evaluated. The second reason is that user performance has long been the main concern of the usability engineers in HCI research, while it has scarcely been in the design of electronic products. Thus, most users of a consumer electronic product are exposed to its difficult-looking interface composed of many small and undifferentiated buttons. Such a black box design has now become accepted as

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the way a consumer electronic product is supposed to look (Kagan, 1997). This results partly from the fact that the design of electronic products has been the job of the design artists who usually emphasize aesthetic integrity of the design. Thus, the controls, especially the buttons, are relatively similar in shape, size, and color, and lack hierarchical positioning. However, the users are becoming more and more intolerant of a difficult-to-use product. Since user interaction with the controls is of primary importance from a user performance viewpoint, efforts should be taken to make products easy to use and easy to learn, not to mention aesthetically satisfactory. That is, it is very important not to be biased in designing a consumer electronic product. The third reason is that using a consumer electronic product does not mean the same as using software. Using software implies completing an intended task with it. Thus, it has been agreed that usability is concerned mainly with how the user achieves results by using it (Bennet, 1984). A consumer electronic product is, however, not only a tool with which the user performs a task but also a decoration in the living room or a means to express one’s personality and lifestyle. So it should be very efficient and easy to use, and at the same time good-looking and fascinating. Actually, user requirements for usability of consumer electronic products are not always concerned with the user performance. Some of them are nothing to do with the efficiency of use and ease of learning. For example, consumers would prefer a deluxe and graceful product to a cheap-looking and inelegant one no matter how efficient it is to use. It is noteworthy that knockoffs (i. e., cheap copies) of extremely expensive highend products are showing up in the consumer electronic product market places (Kagan, 1997). Consumers who cannot afford such expensive products may be satisfied with them. Although these requirements are far from serious or critical under the traditional definition of usability, they are influential enough to make consumers hesitate to spend money on a product. For these reasons, it was not successful to apply the traditional concept of usability, which placed greater importance on the performance side, to the

consumer electronic products. At first, the researchers tried to explain usability of consumer electronic products with the intuition concept (Frand, 1989). In later studies, they agreed that subjective aspects should be considered more important than they used to be to define the usability of consumer electronic products. For example, attractiveness was considered as one of the most important criteria for the design of consumer products together with safety, operability, and maintainability (Woodson et al., 1992). Other specific examples include the image technology approach (Nagamachi, 1995), customer acceptance (Caplan, 1994), the behavioral and emotional usability concept (Logan, 1994), sensuality in user interface design (Hofmeester et al., 1996; Nielsen, 1996), and the pleasure of use concept (Jordan, 1997). Common to all these examples is the idea that a product should be designed so that it appeals to the feeling of the user toward a product. In this study, the concept of usability was defined to include the two aspects: the performance and the image and impression aspects as shown in Fig. 1. The performance aspect of usability means how efficient and effective it is for a user to perform a task to achieve some intended goals by using a product. The performance has usually been measured objectively and quantitatively by means of the speed or accuracy of performing tasks. On the other hand, the image and impression aspect is concerned with the sense or feelings about a product, the impression felt from it, or the evaluative feelings about the product. Although some subjective terms such as satisfaction or

Fig. 1. Usability of consumer electronic products consists of two aspects: performance and image/impression.

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preference have been considered as subjective aspects of usability in the traditional definition, they account for only a small part of it. The image and impression is a more extensive concept that includes not only satisfaction or preference about a product but also the sensuous impression or image felt from a product. All the early experiences about consumer electronic products showed that the definition of usability should be compatible with the users’ understanding of a necessary condition (a sine qua non) of a usable product. That is, the subjective aspect should be emphasized more in defining the usability of electronic products than it used to be. Thus, the image and impression concept was introduced to modify the performance-oriented usability concept in this study. The new definition of usability of a consumer electronic product is ‘satisfying the users in terms of both the performance and the image and impression felt by them.’ However, this might be somewhat misleading. Still the performance of the user while he/she is performing an intended task should be very efficient and easy. That is, the two aspects of usability should be in balance with each other.

impossible to explain the complex and polyhedral meaning with only a few dimensions. In addition, different dimensions of usability should be highlighted in designing and evaluating a product depending on, for example, target users, product properties, user activities, and environmental conditions. Will it be appropriate to apply the same dimensions of usability to low-end and highend products? What if the target users are audio maniacs instead of ordinary users? These highlight the necessity of identifying the dimensions of usability. As a result, a total of 48 dimensions of usability were identified. Based on the new definition of usability, they were classified into two groups. The first group includes performance dimensions that could be used to explain the performance side of the usability concept. The second one consists of image/impression dimensions that are related to the image and impression of the product perceived by the users. 3.1. Performance dimensions The performance dimensions stand for the specific criteria that should be used to evaluate the user performance. Many studies have been conducted to identify them since the concept of usability was first defined by Bennet (1984) and Shackel (1984). Approximately 60 concepts concerned with the user performance were found in the literature, which were reduced to 23 through integration and screening process. Then the performance dimensions were classified into three categories: perception/cognition, learning/memorization, and control/action. The classification was based on a typical human information processing and response production model as shown in Fig. 2 (Wikens, 1984). Table 1 presents 23 performance dimensions with their definitions. 3.1.1. Perception/cognition The perception/cognition category consists of the usability dimensions applicable to examine how well users perceive and interpret the interface of a product. Some representatives are directness, explicitness, responsiveness, and simplicity (See Table 1 for the definitions). This category is

3. Dimensions of usability Usability has often been defined as ease of learning, efficiency of use, memorability, few errors, and preference in the HCI area (Nielsen, 1993; Shneiderman, 1992; Hix and Hartson, 1993). All of them, except for preference, are objective criteria of usability concerned with the user’s performance. Under the traditional definition of usability, it is natural that the objective performance has been intensively studied, while the subjective aspects of usability have been less frequently examined (Nielsen and Lavy, 1994). However, the new definition of usability places as much importance on the subjective aspects (i.e. the image and impression aspect) as on performance. Thus the traditional dimensions of usability were found to be inadequate to evaluate the new usability concept. Worse yet, usability is neither a plain concept nor a measurable one in a simple manner. It is

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Fig. 2. A human information processing and response production model, which is the basis of the classification of performance dimensions (modified from Wickens (1984)).

Table 1 Performance dimensions Group Perception/cognition Dimension Directness Explicitness Modelessness Observability Responsiveness Simplicity Learning/memorization Consistency Familiarity Informativeness Learnability Memorability Predictability Definition Degree of user’s perception of directly controlling the objects represented by the product User’s perception that the way the product looks and works is clear and accurate Capability that allows people to do whatever they want when necessary Ability to evaluate the internal state of the product based upon displayed information Degree of presenting feedback information for a user input in terms of speed The way the product looks and works is simple, plain, and uncomplicated Similarity in the way the product looks and works and the input/output behavior arising from similar situations or similar task objectives Extent to which the user’s knowledge and experience in other domains or real world can be applied interacting with a new product Degree to which the product is informational and giving all the necessary information to the user in a proper manner Time and effort required for the user to learn how to use a product Degree to which the product is easy to remember Ability for the user to determine the effect of future action based on past interaction experience Degree to which a product is easy to approach, enter, or operate Degree to which a product is changed easily to fit different users and/or conditions Ability for the user to regulate, control, and operate the product Accuracy and completeness with which specified users achieved specified goals in particular environment Degree to which the product is enabling the tasks to be performed in a quick, effective and economical manner or is hindering performance Ability to prevent the user from making mistakes and errors Extent to which the product can accommodate changes to the tasks and environments beyond those first specified User’s perception that the product communicates in a helpful way and assists in the resolution of operational problems Ability of the product to support user interaction pertaining to more than one task at a time Ability for the user to take corrective actions once an error has been recognized Degree to which the product supports all of the tasks the user wishes to perform in such a way that the user easily understands them

Control/action

Accessibility Adaptability Controllability Effectiveness Efficiency Error prevention Flexibility Helpfulness Multithreading Recoverability Task conformance

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Fig. 3. Transition of image/impression of a product. Dimensions in basic sense are initially developed and transferred to a higher level (description of image). Finally, the integrated and complex dimensions are developed for the image/impression of a product.

important in designing and evaluating the way in which the system status information is delivered to the user through the interface (e.g. display panel, label, icon, status indicator, etc.). 3.1.2. Learning/memorization The learning/memorization dimension explains how fast the users get used to the product and how well they remember it. Learnability and memorability are typical dimensions of usability in this category as well as others such as consistency, familiarity, informativeness, and predictability. They are used in examining the terminology used, labels of controls and displays, and their interaction behavior. 3.1.3. Control/action The control/action category represents the dimensions that explain the users’ control activity and its results. Accessibility, flexibility, efficiency, and controllability are some representatives of this category. 3.2. Image/impression dimensions As stated above, the subjective aspect of usability has been treated as less important than the performance aspect. This has led to a lack of previous studies applicable in identifying the dimensions of image and impression (i.e. the subjective aspect of usability). Instead, an extensive literature survey was conducted to find out the similes or metaphoric expressions to

describe the image of the consumer electronic products and various expressions about subjective feelings toward them. Also the principal concepts used in the product design department were studied. Thus about 350 relevant expressions were extracted which were then analyzed and synthesized to obtain 25 image/impression dimensions. In order to develop the hierarchy of image/ impression dimensions, study results from related areas (e.g., linguistics, brain science, consumer behavior, cognitive psychology, or linguistic psychology) were examined. As a result, it was assumed that the users’ image or impression of an object was formed in a hierarchical manner as shown in Fig. 3. Accordingly, the image/impression dimensions were classified into three categories: basic sense, description of image, and evaluative feeling. Given in Table 2 are the list of 25 image/impression dimensions and their definitions. 3.2.1. Basic sense Among the image/impression dimensions, sense of color, brightness, shape, texture, etc., were classified as basic sense category (See Table 2 for the complete list). Although they seem to be close to the five senses, they are not the exact representatives of the five senses. Rather, they explain the primitive and direct image/impression stemming from the design characteristics of a product. They are important in expressing the appearance of a product as it is.

S.H. Han et al. / International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics 28 (2001) 143–151 Table 2 Image/impression dimensions Group Basic sense Dimension Shape Color Brightness Texture Translucency Balance Heaviness Volume Description of image Metaphoric design image Elegance Granularity Harmoniousness Luxuriousness Magnificence Neatness Rigidity Salience Dynamicity Acceptability Comfort Convenience Reliability Attractiveness Preference Satisfaction Definition

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Feeling about the shape of a product developed by integrated characteristics (ratio, length, area, etc.) of its components such as line and curvature The conceptual image of a product developed by its color (e.g. warm, cool, etc.) The image of a product developed by its brightness (e.g. dark, bright, etc.) The image of a product developed by its texture or touch (e.g. soft, coarse, etc.) The image of a product developed by its translucency (e.g. opaque, translucent, transparent, etc.) Feeling that a product looks properly balanced or unbalanced Feeling that a product looks light or heavy Feeling that a product looks voluminous or slim Image of a product expressed by the user using a simile or metaphor Degree to which a product is elegant or graceful Degree to which a product is worked out with great care and in fine detail Feeling that the components of a product is well-matched or in harmony Feeling that a product looks flashy, splendid, or extravagant Feeling that a product looks grand and spectacular Feeling that a product looks clean, tidy, simple, and well-arranged Feeling that a product looks stout, stable, and secure Degree to which a product is outstanding, prominent, and catching one’s eyes Feeling that a product looks dynamic or steady Degree to which the user feels a product agreeable or acceptable Degree to which the user feels easy and comfortable with a product Feeling that a product is handy and suitable Feeling that a product is dependable, fit to be trusted, or confident Degree to which a product is pleasing, charming, and arousing interest Degree to which the user like or dislike a product over another Degree to which a product is giving contentment or making the user satisfied

Evaluative feeling

3.2.2. Description of image This category includes the image/impression of a product that the users would describe based on their experience. It includes the dimensions such as elegance, magnificence, neatness, etc. However, it does not include the dimensions based on the users’ judgment of ‘‘like’’ or ‘‘dislike’’. That is, the users would describe a product by using these dimensions whether they like it or not. 3.2.3. Evaluative feeling The evaluative feeling is the third category of the image/impression dimensions. The dimensions in this category are supposed to explain the attitude or judgmental feeling about a product (i.e. whether

they like it or not). Included in this category are acceptability, comfort, preference, satisfaction, etc.

4. Conclusion This study provided a new definition of usability applicable to the consumer electronic products. It was defined as ‘satisfying the users in terms of both the performance and the image and impression felt by them’. This definition is characterized by the fact that both aspects are treated equally important in understanding the usability of consumer electronic products. In addition, a total of 48 dimensions (i.e., 23 performance and 25 image/

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S.H. Han et al. / International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics 28 (2001) 143–151 Gould, J.D., 1988. How to design usable systems. In: Helander, M. (Ed.), Handbook of Human-Computer Interaction. Elsevier, North Holland. Gould, J.D., Lewis, C., 1985. Designing for usability: key principles and what designers think. Communications of the ACM 28 (3), 360–411. Han, S.H., Kim, K.-J., Yun, M.H., Kwahk, J., Hong, S.W., Han, S.-M., 1999. Usability prediction models based on human-product interface elements. In: Lee, G.C.H. (Ed.), Advances in Occupational Ergonomics and Safety. IOS Press, p. 225–230. Hix, D., Hartson, H.R., 1993. Developing User Interfaces: Ensuring Usability through Product and Process. John Wiley & Sons, New York. Hofmeester, K., Kemp, J.A.M., Blankendaal, A.C.M., 1996. Sensuality in product design: a structured approach. Proceedings of the ACM CHI ’96 Conference. ACM, NY, pp. 428–435. Jordan, P.W., 1997. The four pleasures: Taking human factors beyond usability, Proceedings of the 13th Triennial Congress of the International Ergonomics Association, Vol. 2. Tampere, Finland, pp. 364–366. Lindgaard, G., 1994. Usability Testing and System Evaluation: A Guide for Designing Useful Computer Systems. Chapman & Hall, London. Logan, R.J., 1994. Behavioral and emotional usability: Thomson consumer electronics. In: Wiklund, M.E. (Ed.), Usability in Practice. AP Professional, New York, pp. 59– 82. Mantei, M.M., Teorey, T.T.J., 1988. Cost/benefit for incorporating human factors in the software lifecycle. Communications of the ACM 31 (4), 428–439. Mayhew, D., 1992. Principles and Guidelines in Software User Interface Design. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ. Nagamachi, M., 1995. Kansei engineering: a new ergonomic consumer-oriented technology for product development. International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics 15, 3–11. Nielsen, J., 1993. Usability Engineering. AP Professional, NY. Nielsen, J., 1996. Designing to seduce the user. IEEE Software 13 (5), 18–20. Nielsen, J., Lavy, J., 1994. Measuring usability: preference vs. performance. Communications of the ACM 37, 4. Rubin, J., 1994. Handbook of Usability Testing: How to Plan, Design, and Conduct Effective Tests. Wiley, New York. Shackel, B., 1984. The concept of usability. In: Bennet, J., Case, D., Sandelin, J., Smith, M. (Eds.), Visual Display Terminals. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, pp. 45–87. Shackel, B., 1986. Ergonomics in design for usability. In: Harrison, M.D., Monk, A.F. (Eds.), People and Computers: Designing for Usability, Proceedings of the 2nd Conference of Human-Computer Interaction Specialist Group British Computer Society. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Shackel, B., 1991. Usability: context, framework, definition, design, and evaluation. In: Shackel, B., Richardson, S. (Eds.), Human Factors for Informatics Usability. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

impression dimensions) was identified to explain various and complex aspects of the usability. The results of this study are expected to help designers and developers understand the nature of usability and as a result make a product that satisfies the users by redefining the abstract concept of usability in operational terms (i.e., usability dimensions). Also, the specific dimensions of usability can be used to evaluate the usability of a product in a systematic manner. For example, a systematic checklist or a questionnaire can be developed based on the usability dimensions as a means to assess the usability of a product. Furthermore, they can be used in developing the usability evaluation models as the dependent variables (Han et al., 1999). The usability evaluation models are empirical models aimed to predict, diagnose, and explain the functional relationships between the interface features of a product and its usability (see Han et al. (1999) for the method and results). This study is one of the first attempts to understand the true meaning of the usability that is composed of the task-oriented aspect (e.g., user performance) and the human emotional aspect (e.g., image and impression).

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