Friday, February 08, 2008

Usability Highlights from 2007

Usability developments during 2007 ...

"Last year was a busy one for the Blink usability testing staff. It's once again time to reflect and report some of our favorite themes based on studies we completed in 2007.

1. "This should be more like Google." Several sites and applications we tested included home-grown yet sometimes very powerful search features. Google has raised user expectations that all search experiences will be fast, accurate, and relevant, regardless of the platform, site, or application. Study participants are increasingly losing patience with poor search experiences. Requiring users to enter values in separate search fields based on data sources or data requirements is particularly difficult to pull off—users occasionally input terms incorrectly or in the wrong fields yet expect the search tool to "just work." Study participants also expected search tools to "be like Google" by accepting natural language searches, offering "Did you mean?" correction suggestions, and providing concise tips when no results are found.

2. Sub-sites can face an identity crisis. We occasionally test sites that are embedded within a larger company or organizational site. Sub-sites can be fairly autonomous and have their own designers, content producers, and budgets, but may be required to use navigation, templates, and other elements inherited from the parent site. Consistent problems we have observed when testing sub-sites are: 1) users cannot always easily find sub-sites from the parent home page, and 2) users all too easily link away from the sub-site and cannot easily return. Successful techniques to help build awareness and keep users housed within the sub-site experience include:

* using and marketing memorable URLs that create a unique identity for the sub-site (such as www.npr.org/music)
* working with owners of the parent site to improve navigation to the sub-site, and
* optimizing the site-wide Search tool such that certain keywords and synonyms display results that direct users to the sub-site.

3. Information architects of the world: your work is not yet done. Information architecture is as important as it ever was. Good global and local navigation labels make all the difference, as do solid groupings, links placed where people need them, and well-designed content pages. Getting to the right medical care and insurance information was imperative to users of two health-related sites we tested, and in both cases content producers duplicated links to help ensure that information was discoverable. The multiple entry points were problematic, however, as study participants tended to view all links so they would not miss important information. Participants viewing one home page with numerous links could not make quick and accurate decisions because: 1) links were not grouped into meaningful categories and 2) users had to slow down and read through too many choices. Gaze plots from our recent eye-tracking studies also showed users skipping over important items in a too-long list of links or abandoning long lists of links altogether in favor of other page navigation."    (Continued via Blink)    [Usability Resources]

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