User centered design and usability


For this topic we are going to look one of the most important factors that influence the success of any site – the way in which it is designed. The process that the web designer goes through can have a significant effect on the way in which users relate to a site. Research shows that users feel they are using the web as a whole rather than any particular site and they show increasing reluctance to learning new navigation tricks. They tend to expect to be able to use a site on the basis of web conventions they have picked up as a result of their experience of using the web as a whole, where each new site they visit is interpreted according to the rules they have learned. Interface design Over the last 50 years the media that provides us with information has changed dramatically. We have moved from books and newspapers to Television and the Internet. Information is being presented to us in quite radically different ways and the ability to generate visual attention is becoming increasingly important. Television viewing has had a significant effect on the way we get new information. Compared with reading a book watching television is a passive activity where all the information is converted into mostly images and sound that are “pushed” at us. More recent generations have learned to use digital interfaces through games and mobile phones. This ‘point and click generation’ is becoming more dependent on visual concepts rather than reading core information to acquire knowledge. Recent research indicates that there is 8 seconds (or less!) to gain the attention of the online web user. Information gathering on web sites is moving from a “read it all” activity to a “scan it all” activity. This implies there is a downward trend in reading all the information available on a site and an upward trend in the rapid perception of imagery. Whilst the users interaction with a web page may pose new challenges to the designer, the design of key visual elements can still follow well established guidelines that have been developed over the years for print media. Because of this graphic design and interface design are closely related. It is possible to draw upon current practice in print media to design, create assemble, edit and organise the multiple forms of media required in contemporary web pages. In fact, one of the best web design strategies is to consistently apply a few tried and tested printed document design principles to the web pages that you create. Activity Lets have a closer look at the way in which web page design and conventional document design can be linked. Go onto the Internet and read this section of the Web Style Guide site. It is also available as a book and its library reference is The Web Style Guide 2nd Edition Patrick J Lynch & Sarah Horton Yale University Press ISBN 0-300-08898-1 For the book read pages 1 to 3 of the Interface design chapter. Now try the following activity based on your reading in the previous activity Activity List, with a basic description for each item, the basic elements needed to make a web page free standing. Now that you created your list lets do something with it Activity Go back onto the Internet and go to the WEB 100 site where “user ratings and reviews of Web sites guide you to the best of the Web” Use your list as a checklist and look at how the top five sites comply with your freestanding guidelines How many (if any!) comply? User Centred Design User centred design can be defined as: – “the practice of designing products so that users can perform required use, operations, service, and supportive tasks with a minimum of stress and maximum efficiency” (cited in Rubin, 1994, p. 10). Probably the main difference between the traditional computer graphical user interface (GUI) and the web is that on the web the user has almost total control over where they are going. They can follow paths that the designer never thought of, for example jumping deep into the page structure of a site directly from a search engine, or book marking favourite pages on a site to create a customised menu. One of the main challenges for web designers is to accommodate and support user – controlled navigation, where freedom of movement is designed for rather than constrained. This represents a challenge for the interactive designer who will usually want make some form or unique expression – a balance needs to be struck between individuality of design and designing for the web as a whole. Whilst there are no formally established web design guidelines some conventions have emerged established mostly through practice rather than theory. A good designer will find it useful to look at the top sites (say, in terms of traffic or turnover of money) to see what they have in common, if most of them do something in a certain way then that suggests serious consideration of that feature. The opposite applies if there is no obvious convention, then it comes down to the designer’s alternative, however, usability testing is still strongly recommended. Activity Now lets go back to the web style guide and have a look at what they have to say about user centred design Work your way through the entire section and note the key features of user centred design. Your notes from your previous reading of user centred design should include:- Clear navigation Navigation needs to be consistent and users need to be able to easily find their way about your site and also have a good idea of where they are within your site. Dead end pages Do not lock your viewers out from the rest of your site if they jump directly into a page deep within it. Have at least a “home” link. Access Allow your users to find what they want in as few steps as possible. Bandwidth Remember you may only have 6 seconds to get heir attention! Pages that take a (relatively) long time to download are likely to cause frustration. Simplicity and consistency Keep it simple! Users do not want to have to learn a new interface every time they visit a site. Also be consistent in terms of navigation and visual imagery. Design Integrity and stability Instil confidence in the user through the quality of your design and editorial standards Feedback Confirm the users actions and listen to what they have to say. Now lets put some sites to the test in terms of how well they rate for user centred design Activity Go back to the web 100 site and assess the top five sites using the main points of user centred design from above. How would you rate the top 5 now? Usability A web site is really a form of interactive product and because of this it is important to study user interaction. Usability engineering methodologies are being increasingly used as effective tools for an accurate means of measuring user interaction. Whilst market research techniques such as focus groups are useful for getting information on customers needs and concerns they will rarely give insight into fundamental business processes. Users are not designers, they will not come up with a design for a navigation system, this still needs to be prototyped and tested. This is where usability studies come into play as a means to measure the quality of the user experience with a web site. But what exactly does the web designer have to take into account to ensure they produce a web site that is centred on the users needs? The following activity is based on the WorkingWeb enhancing website usability guidelines. The guidelines provide a useful approach web usability and links it to the wider area of user centred design covered in the previous section. Activity Let’s go onto the Internet and have a look at the WorkingWeb usability guidelines Work your way through the complete training menu. Now lets test your understanding of the previous activity by answering the following short questions. Activity 1. What should
a designer do first on a new project, before even considering the website content? 2. Give your own definition of Information Architecture. 3. Broadly describe the main factors that a web designer has to take into account when designing a prototype web site. Note your answers should be between 100 to 200 words long end