Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Web Site Usability Checklist

Web Site Usability Checklist 1.0

Site Structure:

· Does everything in the site contribute to the purpose of the site?
· Is the overall site structure confusing, vague, or seemingly endless?
· Is the overall site structure capable of being grasped?
· Does it have definite boundaries or does it seem endless?
· Does the user have some feedback about where he is in the site?
· Is the site too cluttered (information overload) or too barren (information underload)?
· Is the most important content displayed in a more PROMINENT manner?
· Are the more frequently used functions more PROMINENT on the site?
· Does the site use technologies that lend themselves to the web (such as graphics, sound, motion, video, or other new technology)?
· Does the site use advanced technologies only in manner that enhances the purpose of the site?
. Does the site have too many useless bells and whistles?)
· Is the site so aesthetic (or comedic, etc) that it distracts from the overall site purpose?
· Is it clear to the novice how to move within the site?
· Is the site so narrow and deep that the user has to keep clicking through to find something, and gets lost?
· Is the site so broad and shallow that the user has to keep scrolling to find something?
· From the viewpoint of the user, is the site full of trivial content or vital content?
· Is the overall purpose of the site muddy or clear?
Usual purposes:
1) to exchange money for a product or service or
2) educate about someone or something.
· Does the site use words, abbreviations, or terms that would be unfamiliar to a novice user?
· Does part of the site establish the creditability, trustworthiness, or honesty of the owners when necessary?
· Does the site allow for suggestions and feedback from the users?
· Does the site allow for the users to communicate with each other via chat rooms or internal newsgroups thus creating a sense of community?
· Is the text easy to read?
· Does the font style contribute to the purpose of the site without losing readability?
· Is there sufficient contrast between the text and the background?
· Is there too much contrast between the text and the background?
· Are the characters too small? Too large? Does the novice know how to change their size for easier reading?

· Do the colors enhance the user's experience while not sacrificing text legibility?
· Do the graphics contribute to the overall purpose of the site or distract from it?
· Do the images load quickly or does the user have to wait impatiently?
· Is it hard to locate a target item, causing the user to lose patience and leave?
· For a large-content site, is there an internal search engine?
· Does the user have to go through too many steps to accomplish a task? (buying, joining, registering)?
· Does an expert user have options that allow them higher speed?
· Does the site designed using generally accepted human factors principles? (feedback, transfer of training, natural mapping, movement compatibility, cultural compatibility, logical compatibility, etc.)

Page design sometimes gets the most attention. After all, with current web browsers, you see only one page at a time. The site itself is never explicitly represented on the screen. But from a usability perspective, site design is more challenging and usually also more important than page design.

Once users arrive at a page, they can usually figure out what to do there, if only they would take a little time (OK, users don't take the time to study pages carefully, which is why we also have many usability problems at the page level). But getting the user to the correct page in the first place is not easy.

In a study by Jared Spool and colleagues, when users were started out at the home page and given a simple problem to solve, they could find the correct page only 42 percent of the time. In a different study by Mark Hurst and myself, the success rate was even lower; only 26 percent of users were capable of accomplishing a slightly more difficult task which, in the case of our study, was to find a job opening and apply for it (averaged across six representative corporate sites with job listings).

The reason for the lower success rate in our study relative to Jared Spool's study was not because we had picked particularly poorly designed sites; on the contrary, we were looking at sites from fairly large and well-respected companies. The difference in success rates was due to differences in the task complexity. The 42 percent success rate was the average outcome across a range of tasks where users were asked to find the answers to specific questions on a website-in other words, the exact task the Web is best for. In contrast, the 26 percent success rate was the average when users had to carry out a sequence of steps in order to complete the task of finding and applying for a job. If a user was prevented from progressing through any one of the individual steps, then he or she would not be able to perform the task. After all, you can't apply for a job if you can't find it. But it also does you no good to find a job posting if the application form is too difficult.

The problem is that web usability suffers dramatically as soon as we take users off the home page and start them navigating or problem solving. The Web was designed as an environment for reading papers, and its usability has not improved in step with the ever-higher levels of complexity users are asked to cope with. Therefore, site design must be aimed at simplicity above all else, with as few distractions as possible and with a very clear information architecture and matching navigation tools.

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