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Website Management Section: Usability

Usability is the key to evaluation. You need to know about a user's experience with searching and browsing your website. How successful were users in accomplishing their goal?

King, David (January 2003). The mom-and-pop shop approach to usability studies. Computer in Libraries, 12-14, 71.
This issue of Computers in Libraries is fill of great article on usability. You might want to read some of the others included in this issue. When you download the King article, you'll also be able to read the following articles:
Crum, Janet (January 2003). The tale of two needs. Computer in Libraries, 22-26.
Kirkpatrick, Cheryl H. (January 2003). Getting two for the price of one: accessibilities and usability. Computer in Libraries, 26-30.

Let's explore evaluation, testing, characteristics, technology, user experience, and resources.

Evaluation and Measurement

The ISO standard 9241-11 focuses on usability evaluation and measurements.

Aesthetics focuses on whether the website experience was positive in terms of visual, auditory, and other aspects that impact positive attitudes.

Perceived usability asks users how well the website met their needs.

Although there are many resources on web usability, Jakob Nielsen's book Designing Web Usability along with his website called Useit are probably the best-known and most popular. This website provides guidelines for website design and usability.

Evaluating Information Retrieval

Evaluating the information retrieval aspect of your website can be a challenge. You can use data generated from your website such as statistics and logs, but to get the whole picture you'll need to ask patrons about their experiences.

Statistics such as the precision and completeness of the search can be measured using statistics from your website. For example, how accurate were the search results? Automated statistics can only go so far in determining whether a patron felt their search was relevant.

The search log can also be analyzed to determine where users had difficulty in their searches.

Many users may browse the website, so it's important to collect information from those people who used both search tools and other types of navigation such as indexes and directories.

Evaluating Structure

After spending days, months, or years working on your website, you could find pages in your sleep. Most of your users are not that familiar with your site. Is the structure and organization of materials effective in meeting the needs of your users?

Ask the following questions:

Evaluating Grouping

When you design a website, you identify logical ways of grouping information. As you begin testing your website with users, you may need to reconsider how information is grouped or how people move between sets of information. When designing materials, some people even use cards and ask people to categorize information and see if the concensus of the group matches how information is organized on the website. For example, you might place information about citing Internet resources in the policy section of your library website. However, when asked where they would look for citation information, they might say the research paper section. Will you move the content or add an additional cross-reference link?

Ask the following questions:

Evaluating Labeling

People rely on the title of the page, categories, headings, and words on buttons to make choices. Words can have a variety of meanings. Evaluate the labeling of your website by determining if the labels or icons you provide are effective and efficient or problematic. For example, if you provide an icon representing a question mark, book, or house, what will patrons think these visuals mean? When you use the word, home, main menu, or index, what do users think these words mean?

Read Why you Need to Test Your Web Site with Real Users. Think about some of the ways you can conduct usability tests on your website.

Read Test Users, Test Hypotheses by Avi Soudack at Boxes and Arrows.


Usability testing: "should ascertain that visitors both achieve the goal of their visit efficiently and at the same time have an enjoyable experience."

Usability must be a central concern of all website designers. In addition to dealing with specific concerns such as Web Accessibility, a website designer must consider the wide range of potential users.

Traditional Usability Testing

Usability testing is helps developers identify how people use systems and where they may encounter difficulty of use. Careful testing and revision can significantly reduce development, training and support costs. In addition, it can improve the effectiveness, efficiency, and appeal of web-based materials.

Traditional Methods Used:

Usability Testing and the User Experience

A key factor in usability testing involves accounting for the "user experience." There are many issues that must be considered in addressing the individual differences of users:

Web Specific Test Plan Issues

The Process of Web Evaluation

As you develop materials, you'll need to go through a series of evaluations.

Usabilty Evaluation Goal Setting

Identify both absolute and relative goals:

As you develop items, think about the information that will be gained. Here are two options related to "ease of use": "The web site should be easy to use" vs. "The user should perform the task without asking questions." The first option difficult to measure. The second can be easily measured.

Early Paper Testing

Before you get deep into development, consider a paper test to determine whether or not the initial designs reflect the purpose of the site. Can the user recognize the genre and purpose of the site by viewing it? Select 2-4 potential users and ask them to view a page from the site. Ask the following questions. Also look at the time it takes for them to answer the questions:

Storyboard Testing

When the storyboard is ready, it's time for another test. The objective is to help improve the design of the site and address the goals and functionality of the site. Mimic the site map and sketch all possible pages and connections between. You should show each page fully laid out in design details including navigation. Use 2-3 expert reviewers and potential users. Consider the following questions:

Interactive Prototype Testing

When the prototype is ready, test and determine the ease of navigation and the flow of the interface to identify problems and bottlenecks.

Sample Usability Test

Explore the following to sample usability tests. Think about your own test situation. What would work best?

Exploratory Tasks. Open the Denver Public Library website. Examine the page and jot down your general comments about the page before starting to click. After this, do anything you would normally want to do on this page. Navigate freely around the site. Try to locate and comment on the following: Library Catalog, News, and the Teen section.

Directed Tasks. Open the Denver Public Library website. (1) You have heard that the library is available in the Spanish language. Can you find the Spanish language section? (2) You've heard that the library has some live book events. Can you find a list of the current event programs scheduled?

Read Jakob Nielson's information on Heuristic Evaluation for a great guide to his "discount usability engineering" method for quick, cheap and easy web site evaluation.

Read Jakob Nielson's Read Why You Only Test With 5 User.

try itTry It!
Explore the Nielson Norman Group Usability Reports. Although you can only see summaries and sample pages for free, they'll give you a good feel for the types of things professionals do during usability test!

Some ideas adapted from Shaping Web Usability: Interaction Design in Context by Albert N. Badre, Addison-Wesley, ISBN: 0-201-72993-8


Designers should pay particular attention to user’s expectations of how a Web site is organized and how they can use it... Understanding user’s mental models requires specifying how users represent both structural and functional knowledge about their environment... [The cognitive space is] …composed of individual thought processes, impressions, perspectives, plans, goals, and concerns that are specific to that individual. - Albert Badre (2002) in Shaping Web Usability.

The designer must understand the user’s Web ecology. In other words, how does the individual act in the online environment? To understand this ecology, you must understand the audience characteristics and the implications of these characteristics.

Address the individual differences among potential users:

Address cognitive processing capabilities and limits:

Consider special audiences such as characteristics of older users:

Generate an audience profile:

Some ideas adapted from Shaping Web Usability: Interaction Design in Context by Albert N. Badre, Addison-Wesley, ISBN: 0-201-72993-8

Reynolds, Erica (June 2008). The secret to patron-centered web design: cheap, easy, and powerful usability techniques. Computers in Libraries, 6-8, 44-47.


The physical space …the actual physical environment in which Web users function, perform, and make and execute decisions relative to a selected Web site. - Albert Badre (2002) in Shaping Web Usability.

What can you expect in terms of user technology? Will they have the fastest Internet connection and newest computer. Or, are they likely to have an old computer with a dial-up connection?

Create a typical technology profile. Consider:

Test on either side of this profile.

Some ideas adapted from Shaping Web Usability: Interaction Design in Context by Albert N. Badre, Addison-Wesley, ISBN: 0-201-72993-8

Balas, Janet L. (October 2005). Does your library's web site pass the usability test? Computers in Libraries, 36-39.

User Experience

Designing a Web site requires that we understand the scripts that Web users take from real-life experience and apply to using a Web site. - Badre, Albert N. (2002). Shaping Web Usability.

Think about the connection between the user and their technology and the user experience within the website. Use a visitor-centered focus. In other words, target your audience.

Content Positioning. Specify the goals of the site, the tasks of the site, and organize in order to support the user's structural and functional mental models of the content.

Response Time. Acceptable response time depends several factors including the task to be performed PLUS the user experience level PLUS the user expectations. Faster is generally better. However consider the specific audience. For example, will young children or older users be able to "keep up" with movement or screen transitions?

Navigation. Sometimes the user's mental map is incomplete. Help users construct a path with both visual and text maps and cues. Use each of the following elements wisely:

Security. Assure reasonable confidence in site security and privacy. If you collect personal data, protect your users' privacy and state your privacy policy. If you are asking for a user transaction, use security procedures, confirmation procedures, contact information, etc.

Visibility. Use a domain name, site name, key words, and titles that are descriptive of the content of the website.

Quality. Be sure the user experience is positive. Provide a means for users to share ideas and use the resources effectively:

Some ideas adapted from Shaping Web Usability: Interaction Design in Context by Albert N. Badre, Addison-Wesley, ISBN: 0-201-72993-8

Phillips, Donald (September 2012). How to develop a user interface that your real users will love. Computers in Libraries, 6-15.


The question that Web designers should always have at the top of their list is how best to accommodate the requirement for balance among the emotional, aesthetic, and informational needs of Web site visitors - Albert Badre (2002) in Shaping Web Usability. Boston: Addison-Wesley.

Learn More

Gorilla Usability by Keith Robinson.

Designing a More Usable World - for All - Focuses on usability, accessibility, and other universal design principles and guidelines.

Shaping Web Usability: Interaction Design in Context by Albert N. Badre

UPA Usability Resources - Contains good resources for usability professionals.

Usability Web Site from Society for Technical Communication - Practical information and resources. Jakob Nielsen on Usability and Web Design - Well known website on usability, web design, standards, and technical issues. Nielsen's Alertbox provides updated information on usability.

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