A blog about yoga and video games, by a yogini/game designer.

6 usability principles for short product dev. cycles

These six usability principles are relevant to the design of video games, as the speed of production cycles has changed radically over the past couple of years. When developing games with $50 million price tags, it’s worth the time and expense to collect customer data. Corporations like Sony and Activision use the data to develop lines of products just as Maytag develops a line of appliances or Ford, a fleet of vehicles.

A fast development cycle has implications on usability design. Developers can better estimate their future customers’ needs because now they only need to project six months out, instead of six years. 12-year old Jimmy probably won’t give a flying-banshee about the Avatar franchise when he hits eighteen, six years from now. However, the chance that me, my aunt, my cousin and twelve people from each of our friends lists will still be playing some kind of farming, dress-up, grow your own pet-monkey-garden-patch-town-something-or-other six months down the road… Market volatility from 2006 to 2012 tells me it’s not a bad bet (R.I.P. 2011).

It’s cost-prohibitive to acquire data on your customers’ wants and needs during the idea stage of a fast product development cycle, so companies hedge their bets against it. Still, as the wave of a new game design era breaks, investors know that their joy ride is only as good as them and their board. These usability principles carried the Macintosh, and sank the push-button alarm/clock-radio. I challenge you to find me any Angry Birds, Plants vs Zombies, Cut the Rope or Fruit Ninja that doesn’t hit on these design principles…

1. Automation should:

  • Simplify user experience
  • Not take away control

2. Display the following:

  • Operations/game controls     
  • Allowable actions (only)
  • Relevant info (only)

3. Learnable = explorable:

  • Invite experimentation
  • Don’t require human memory usage


4. Effect of users actions must be:

  • Visible
  • Easy to interpret
  • Cost-free


5. Standardize where it makes sense:

  • Identify actions that are corollary to established (not just existing) genres
  • Follow UI and semantics standards


6. Design for error

  • Impose “lockouts”
        - Failure to complete one action prevents another action from happening
  • User error = imperfect approximations
             - Interface needs to fit users mental/conceptual model
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