Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Intranet Usability Shows Huge Advances

Intranet usability much improved - new guidelines ...

"Measured usability improved by 44% compared to our last large-scale intranet study. The new research identified 5 times the previous number of intranet design guidelines.

During the few years between our two rounds of intranet testing, the world experienced a dramatic improvement in intranet usability.

Our simplest usability metric is success rate, which measures whether users can complete their tasks with the user interface. In the first study, the average success rate was 74%; in the second study, it was 80%. An increase from 74% to 80% might not seem very big, but that's because the first study's success rate was already fairly high, and thus it was hard to increase it further.

Our public Internet tests have shown dramatically lower success rates than what we've found on intranets. In our book, Prioritizing Web Usability, we present detailed results of a study in which we asked users to perform tasks on the Web without first taking them to any particular website. Such a task tests how people typically use the Web, and it had a success rate of only 60%.

Intranet success rates are typically about 33% higher than the Web for two reasons:

* There is no doubt about where to go. The company's intranet is the company's intranet — users don't have to worry whether they've reached a fraudulent site or a low-credibility source the way they do on the Web. The first problem in using the Web is to find a good website for your current question; intranets don't present this obstacle. (Yes, users have to find their way around their intranet, but that's equivalent to navigating a website, not to finding a website and judging whether it's going to cheat you.)

* Employees experience with their company's intranet continually increases because there's only one site. In contrast, users flitter among websites and don't spend much time on any given site. As a result, people rarely learn the intricacies of an individual website's interface and are thus more easily baffled.

The success rate variability among intranets was substantially smaller in the second study than in the first. The standard deviation relative to the mean was 15% for the first study, but only 8% for the second study. In other words, according to this common variability measure, intranet variability was cut almost in half. This further indicates the benefits of intranet usability guidelines.

Our first study was conducted before any intranet guidelines were available. (Indeed, the purpose of this first research was to identify the first set of intranet usability guidelines.) Without such guidelines, designers had to rely solely on local observations of their own intranet and couldn't benefit from usability findings from other intranets. Given such scant usability knowledge, design decisions were highly variable.

In contrast, we conducted the second study after we'd published general intranet usability guidelines in the report from our first round of research. Working from this broader knowledge base smoothed over the differences in the information available within each company. Of course, there was still some variability left because the resources allocated to intranet design teams varied and different design decisions had different effects.

Overall, however, the more we know about intranet usability, the less intranet design is a matter of guesswork. Hopefully, the publication of our new report edition, with much more detailed findings and additional guidelines, will further reduce the variability in intranet quality."    (Continued via Alertbox)    [Usability Resources]

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