Beyond First Impressions: The Importance of Learnability in Product Design

Usability studies provide a narrow view of the product experience, typically focusing on first-time use. Lextant widens the scope of usability studies using the System Learnability Assessment Method SLAM™. Lextant widens the scope of usability studies using the System Learnability Assessment Method SLAM™.

What is Learnability? 

Learnability is the change in usability of a product or service over time.  It encompasses the long-term, holistic relationship between user and system. Learnability starts with the intuitiveness of the system. Some systems are more intuitive than others. This is because of familiarity (transfer of training) and affordances (direct perception).

Learnability Chart1
Learnability Chart2
As users continue to interact with and explore a system, they become more effective (increased rate of success, lower number of errors​) and efficient (decreased time on task) at accomplishing their goals.
Learnability Chart3
Learnability Chart4

A successful learning process contributes to a more satisfying experience. This is important not just because satisfaction affects perception of product and brand and future purchasing decisions, but because satisfaction determines whether a task will be attempted again, or a system will be used.

Intuitive design serves some goals, requiring minimal learning for first-time use. However, intuitive design is not always possible for complex goals or enhanced capabilities.

Minimal learning required due to affordances and direct perception (eg., volume knob, light switch)​.

Moderate learning required due to transfer of training (e.g., touchscreen).

High learning required due to novelty or complexity of goal / system (e.g., robotic surgery devices).

For example, innovative systems can require more effort to learn. However, the payoff may be greater efficiency or enhanced capabilities. Innovations that have the potential to increase efficiency are only successful if the user is willing to put in effort to learn them (e.g., Qwerty keyboard vs. Dvorak). ​

Frequency of use also impacts learning. Gradual learning is possible when users retain information from previous attempts. Because learning fades over time infrequently performed tasks must be intuitive, especially if they are critical. Critical tasks include tasks where the consequence of failure is high. ​

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At Lextant we deploy tools like our System Learnability Assessment Method (SLAM) to quantitatively and qualitatively understand learning and behavior change at important moments in during user’s experience with a product. By focusing on these key moments in learning and use, we can understand how successful design elements are at changing behavior. We can also look for parts of the experience that could be preventing success.

Most importantly, we can give the designers the information they need to improve and innovate their products.

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