The pressures of usability studies

It’s been a little while since I’ve updated my blog, due to Spring Break being last week. My mom and I had a perfect vacation in Seaside with amazing weather, and I had a joyous time eating lunch at Bud & Alley’s Taco Bar every day.

Let’s jump backwards to the week before that, when we spent some time in class developing a script for our usability study. We based it off one offered in Rocket Surgery Made Easy by Steve Krug, and we filled in the blanks to fit our needs. Our class is examining the College of Communication and Information Sciences website, the main resource for our students to find information on classes, faculty, scholarships and ways to get involved in the College.

The tricky thing about these scripts is making them complete without making them sound cheesy. There are certain things we needed to consider, including the fact that we were testing the website, not the individuals using it. Part of the script asked the users to think out loud and tell us why they were scrolling or clicking on certain things.

This week, I sat down with two of my classmates and we conducted the usability study with one of our friends. She found it very easy to “think out loud” to us, and we learned some interesting facts about what the website does right and what it does not do so well. We had a few challenges for her, and she eventually succeeded in all of them, but one was certainly a struggle. I could tell that she was getting a little frustrated and wanted to give up, but for the sake of our study, she pressed on. She eventually asked us for the answer, and I definitely had a hard time not telling her. We resisted, and she found the answer a couple of minutes later.

What I learned is that usability studies are much more helpful than I had thought they would be. I was surprised at how much we learned about the website. I am personally pretty familiar with it and have been using it for several years, so I guess I took its usability – or sometimes lack thereof – for granted. I’m glad we’ve made some progress in our study and will have some propositions for the College to consider when making future changes.

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