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Is it possible for an item to have good usability and a positive user experience for one core group of users and, by virtue of that design, make the experience worse for another core group of users? Does this then mean that the overall usability is actually poor?

I thought of this because I had borrowed and subsequently (accidentally) stolen a pen from a friend who rather enjoyed writing with it because it wrote smoothly, made dark lines, and was comfortable to hold. Using this pen was awful for me as a left-hander; the ink smeared all over the paper, it was hard to read what I had written, and I had to throw away several checks I was trying to write with it (seriously, who doesn't accept online bill pay yet?)

My question is: does this pen have good usability? A positive user experience? Should the evaluation be restricted to a definite user (i.e. right-hander) or should it be evaluated against all possible users? What other situations (software or otherwise) could/has this occurred in?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Usability is per user, per situation. The goal of UX is to maximize the quality of experience for the highest percentage of users. You can never please everyone with a particular choice; there is no single application interface that is perfect for everyone. The goal is to be good enough for the worst case, without hindering overly the best case.

An example is one of the simplest: font size. A larger font makes your site more accessible for those with impaired vision, like older users. The downside is that everyone else has to do a little more scrolling to see content. It is a trade-off... some users get a much better experience, and other users get a slightly worse one. The choice is not perfect... it's a compromise that (hopefully) maximizes the utility for the largest number of users.

That is why testing your design with representative users is important. You need to make sure that the demographic of users is properly represented with the people you test with, so that the problems found match up with problems your entire user base are likely to have.

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What a great question! Absolutely. UX is not an inherent quality of a tool, be it a pen, a computer system, or anything else. It is an emergent quality of the tool in its interaction with a specific user population, in a specific context. So your friends pen was great for him/her in a normal setting, but would have been awful if they were trying to use it in subzero temperatures with gloves on.

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You certainly get the situation where two very distinct groups of might want differing information from a website:-

A site which is primarily aimed at the general public, may also be used by a group of 'professional users'.

Ideally the professional users get picked up at the intial design stage, get their own persona and get given their own way of viewing the site (eg a 'Professional Group' tab).

If the existence of the particular group of professional users don't get picked up at the design stage, then you might well end up with a site which doesn't work for their information needs.

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Great question and the answer can be Yes, You can design a product which is focussed on only specific group of users as long as you can make a business case for it and justify the payback that you would get from only focusing only on that group of users.

Taking your own example for pens or even pencils which are customized for a specific group of users, there is a huge market for pens which are designed for only left handers which make it really use for left handers to user due to the angle at which they hold their pens and make it rather awkward for right handers to use.

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