The restrooms at the recently renovated Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor MI (home of the University of Michigan Wolverines) illustrate the problem that comes with a lack of discoverability.
One part of the outstanding 2010 renovation included changes to the men's restrooms. These restrooms are bust during football games – from before kickoff until well after the game is over they all have long lines that extend well past the entrance.
Typically you file into the line and make your way towards the entrance to the restroom. Once you do enter you see a long and relatively narrow space, with urinals and dividers on either side. Once you arrive at the front of the line you wait for one to clear up and make your way to it.
Once finished you continue on to the end of the space, where you make a 90 degree turn towards what you assume are the sinks and exit. What you all realize is that there is another entire section of urinals, almost identical to the first, usually sitting almost empty.
The problem is discoverability or, more specifically, a lack of discoverability. The send row of urinals is not discoverable – as people file into the restroom they don't see them, and most don't make use of them. This means that almost half of the designed capacity goes unused, contributing to the long line and wait time.
Now – the extra urinals are discoverable on the way out, but that doesn't help anyone on their first visit to the stadium. And even if you remember the extra section on a subsequent visit it really doesn't help solve the problem for two reasons...
1. Even if you remember that there is an extra section of urinals, hopefully unused, you can't be sure. You know they're their, but you don't know if they are being used. Their location might ultimately be discoverable (you see them on the way out and can try to remember) but their availability is not.
2. It would only help if the vast majority of people remembered that the extra section was there, and was prepared to proceed into it without any knowledge of availability. Remember, the line is effectively single file, and the whole thing depends on what the person at the front of the line knows and does. As long as most people are unaware of the second section, or are unwilling to rush to it without knowledge of availability, the progress of the line depends solely on the capacity of the easily discoverable first section.
It is unfortunate, because the stadium was always spectacular and the 2010 renovation made it even better. The whole facility is brilliantly well designed and meticulously thought out, and that includes the volume of the restrooms. The probably provide enough capacity that there should be almost no delay.
But it's all undone by a lack of discoverability. Because the extra restroom capacity cannot be easily discovered, it isn't used, and might as well not even be there.
Software design is similar. If a feature, report, shortcut, etc. can't be discovered by a user it might as well not be there. There are workarounds – training, webinars and email tutorials can used to draw attention to less-known (and less discoverable) features, but nothing beats catching the attention of a user while they are in the context where it would be most helpful.
For example – the ability to export or email a report is very handy, and those options are ideally presented when the user is looking at the report. It is also be good to make them aware of those options before they actually generate the report – if they want to export the data, they shouldn't have to first view or print the data to realize that export is possible.
FloristWare offers retail florists an incredible number of reports, more than 50, and they are all easily discoverable. It's great to see even the newest florist users discovering powerful new reports, reports that are not available with other floral POS systems, and taking full advantage of them.