Thursday, 29 October 2009

The bottom line in website effectiveness - task management

An excellent article by Gerry McGovern, in conversation with Jared Spool.
To meet the needs of the users, the team needs to make task completion their #1 objective. "Don't manage the technology; don't manage the content; don't manage the information; and don't manage the graphics," Gerry says, "Manage the tasks."
This hits the nail on the head for university website management. Most of our visitors need to get answers from several schools and units. We don't manage the tasks though. We manage the webpages. The user journey beyond our own webpages are rarely a concern to us.

Why? So few of us actually deal directly with the site visitors. We don't (or can't?) empathise.
"If you were running a restaurant or a supermarket, you'd see your customers. If you built a door with a mat that was 12 inches off the ground and people were constantly tripping on it, you'd change the mat. But we don't see that sort of stuff. People create content without any conception of its usage."
Gerry McGovern says "Manage the tasks" - article by Jared Spool

Online usability tools - some free, some charging

A couple of articles that promote or review online usability services. Some of these I've tried, some I've yet to explore.

If anyone tries any of these out, leave a comment. I'll blog any that I find to be useful.

22 Cheap or Free Web Usability Tools, Part 1 (the first 6)

Turn Right On Usability Lane

Of those listed, I'm currently trying out, and

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Usability ROI - case studies

While I'm on an ROI roll, a couple of articles with lots of examples: facts, figures and case studies.

An article from the Usability Professionals Association, that's packed with great snippets like this:
"The rule of thumb in many usability-aware organizations is that the cost-benefit ratio for usability is $1:$10-$100. Once a system is in development, correcting a problem costs 10 times as much as fixing the same problem in design. If the system has been released, it costs 100 times as much relative to fixing in design." (Gilb, 1988)
I can't think of a home-grown application that couldn't be made more usable. And the thing is, most if not all of them won't be, because the cost of improvements post release is too high.

The ROI of Usability - an article from the Usability Professionals Association

And a suite of resources and case studies from I've not come across this site before, but this material is worth a look if you were interested in making a case for investing in usability testing.

Usability ROI - case studies and resources

Public sector website usability - the return on investment

A couple of articles by Jakob Nielsen that make the best case for improving website usability - the bottom line, money.

Everyone working in public sector web publishing should read this article. If this doesn't make the case strongly enough, we might as well all pack up and go home...

Do Government Agencies and Non-Profits Get ROI From Usability? - article by Jakob Nielsen

A comparison of usability ROI for a range of websites. Nielsen compares studies done in 2002 and 2008.

His conclusion is that the ROI is falling, but is still substantial (average improvement on average in 2008 was only 83%).

So he estimates that in 30 years, the ROI may not be significant enough to justify usability testing.

Usability ROI Declining, But Still Strong - article by Jakob Nielsen

Four essential skills for information architects

Sounds a bit dull, a bit specialist, desn't it?

But the thing is, as web publishing becomes less techie and more about communication and structure we all need to be able to play the role of information architect. Or at least have enough awareness of the discipline to manage our websites effectively.

This short interview with Donna Spencer provides a good lead in and, as with most things related to usability of websites, it's all pretty obvious once someone actually points it out.

I like this quote which is actually feedback from someone who read the article:
I’ve found that one of the strongest, but often overlooked, skills is editorial. A good IA will only work if the content is rationalized in the very beginning. Architecture hangs from a single premise: the information is worth finding.
Four essential skills for information architects: An interview with Donna Spencer - a article

The return on investment for personas

An extract from "The Persona Lifecycle: Keeping People in Mind throughout Product Design" by John Pruitt and Tamara Adlin.

Return on investment for personas - article

McGovern on menus and links

I'm not sure the examples Gerry gives are 100% relevant to information-driven websites (he talks about a news site and an e-commerce site) but the underlying message is spot on.
To make menus and links simpler you have to think like a customer. You also have to reduce the number of links and focus on the task at hand.
Whether a univeristy could be as ruthless as the BBC news site or Amazon, I don't know.

What universities can do though, is understand their audiences better, focus on their needs and stick to them through long term web communications strategies.

Confusing menus and links: the web's biggest challenge - article by Gerry McGovern

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Inclusive Design - great article on the value of accessibilty

This two part article with short case studies by Bruce Tognazzini has the tagline: "With Some Shocking Revelations About Your Future".

Some pertinent points for us all...

“We all will have disabilities eventually, unless we die first.”

Inclusive Design - article on accessibility by Bruce Tognazzini

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Facilitating usability tests - 3 roles to play

How do you become a great moderator? Simple—with practice. Facilitating sessions is a learned skill that improves the more you do it. There are some simple tricks and techniques behind it...
Jared Spool likens effective usability testing facilitation to playing 3 different roles in the course of a session: the flight attendant, the sportscaster and the scientist.

His analogy rings true for me and my experience of running usability sessions.

Moderating with Multiple Personalities: 3 Roles for Facilitating Usability Tests - article by Jared Spool

Corporate RSS and social networking - Nielsen usability study

Jakob Nielsen's summary of a couple of studies they've undertaken in recent years around corporate use of RSS and social network channels like Facebook and MySpace.

His findings won't be a surprise to anyone who uses such services for personal use. We have expectations about the levels of interaction we're going to get.
Start using a social networking service only if you have the budget to support reasonably frequent postings. And, if you later find out that you don't, close it down gracefully rather than letting it get overgrown by cobwebs.
As ever, it's not sufficient to jump dump in content from other media.
The shorter the message, the more important the writing... [write] for the medium...
Streams, Walls, and Feeds: Distributing Content Through Social Networks and RSS - article by Jakob Nielsen

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Free usability webinars: 12 - 21 October 2009

This set of free online presentations on various aspects of usability and marketing looks interesting. Registration is required. Some presenatations will be made available as videos after the event.

Usability marathon 2 - Free online presentations

Friday, 9 October 2009

Eyetracking Google search results - the golden triangle

Interesting bit of eyetracking research which reveals just how much, or how little, people take in on a search engine results page.

The eyetracking heatmap gives a clear indication of why paid-for ads now appear top left on results pages...

Google golden triangle - eyetracking heatmap
Google Search's Golden Triangle - research report by Eyetools
Eyetracking articles - Eyetools blog

The art of writing very little

A good article by Gerry Gaffney of Information & Design, an Australian usability company.

Clearly written, thoughtfully designed, well formatted text is skimmed, scanned or skipped entirely.

The reluctance to read is rarely greater than when completing forms...
The Art Of Writing Very Little - article by Gerry Gaffney

Information & Design - usability company providing free resources

Usability of ballot papers: Caroline Jarrett at SUPA in Edinburgh - 20 October

This month's talk isn't web-related, but it is co-presented by Caroline Jarrett who is an expert in web form usability. She co-wrote an excellent book - Forms that work.

This month's session is about election ballot usability - a case study of usability work conducted following complaints about the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections.

Scottish UPA events

Forms that Work - free online resources and book promotion

Follow up - free report download
The talk was excellent, with many similarities to experiences of online usability testing. The scary thing is that bad usability is affecting our democratic right to vote. The number of ways participants were able to invalidate their vote was amazing.

The report is free to download from the Electoral Commission.

Usability of ballot papers - report by Effortmark and Uservision for the Electoral Commission

Saturday, 3 October 2009

User testing done for you -

This looks like a fantastic idea. I've not tried it yet, but they certainly have a lot of endorsements.

If it's good enough for Steve Krug, it's good enough for me.

Set up the test you want (what site or sites, the scenario, the tasks) and select the number of participants you need. Then sit back and wait for the results to come in. Every participant produces a video of them completing your test, plus a write up.

At $29 per participant, it would be pretty hard to do the work yourself at this price. Particularly if you want to involve external participants from specific demographics, and you're going to have to pay them.

Although this is a US-based company, you can select UK-only participants too.

I'm definitely going to give it a try in the near future. - fast, low cost usability testing

Follow up: I did some testing a month or so later and was very happy with the service - big thumbs up

Usability newsletters from Wichita State University

Usability News is a free web newsletter that is produced by the Software Usability Research Laboratory (SURL) at Wichita State University. The SURL team specializes in software/website user interface design, usability testing, and research in human-computer interaction.

It's obviously pretty academic, but there is tons of great material in the papers they produce. I've found their archive of articles to be really useful when looking for research and evidence to inform the starting point for design recommendations.

Usability News archive - usability articles from Wichita State University