RAA 5: User-Centered Design and Usability Testing of a Web Site

Corry, M., Frick, T., & Hansen, L. (1997). User-centered design and usability testing of a Web site: An illustrative case study. Educational Technology Research and Development, 45(4), 65-76. doi:10.1007/BF02299683

The authors of this article were given several tasks from administrators at Indiana University. They were to determine how useful the current university website was through needs analysis and usability tests, and then develop a new site that would better meet the information needs of users.

A needs analysis was first conducted. The authors interviewed 35 campus departments to determine most frequently asked questions. These questions were put onto index cards and were used in card sorting by frequency, in which over 30 categories were revealed. These findings were used to create a first paper prototype.

Usability testing was then conducted with 21 people, through usage of paper versions of both the original website and the new prototype. Participants could only view one page at a time and were asked a think aloud while they answered 15-20 questions for each website.

A second phase of usability testing was then conducted with 16 participants, focusing only on the newer website. Changes that were made before testing included renaming links, reducing multipage nodes to a single page, and organizing university departments into a long list of alphabetized links.

Once usability testing using paper prototypes were completed, the authors conducted another usability test with an online version of the newer website, using 11 participants. You can tell that this article is dated because the website was tested on Lynx, Mosaic, and Netscape browsers by all participants.

Lastly, a second testing with the computer prototype was conducted to look at the changes that were made to fix the problems identified in the previous phase.

Main Findings
The first paper prototyping and usability testing revealed that the proposed website was more usable than the existing, when finding most-frequently asked information. In general, participants were often faster and more successful when completing tasks with the new prototype.

Results of the second usability testing helped identify more links that were confusing and/or misleading.

As for the usability testing on the computer prototype, there were several problems identified including too many key presses and scrolling to navigate. These problems often had to do with the browsers they were using.

In the second phase of testing the computer prototype, there were higher success rates than the phase before it due to clearer navigation and terminology, fewer keystrokes required, and more of a breadth-based navigation structure.

I thought this article had a lot of commonalities with what our Computer Interaction Design class was doing right now. The authors basically used an iterative process to clarify and reorganize the information architecture of the university’s website. Similarly, our class is taking the information from nanoHUB.org and using card sorting and usability testing to validate our own information architecture. That being said, this was a helpful reading to further understand the process we will be going through in class.

I would also like to mention that this article did well in putting the information we learned about IA into context. For example, using breadth rather than depth for navigation structures, and limiting information to one page because users will often ‘suffice’ and not even bother looking at the next page. Overall this reading was a very good supplement to our current course content, despite being dated. But then again, I guess that shows how some design guidelines tend to be timeless.