Sunday, 28 February 2010

Usability testing scripts & checklists from Steve Krug

Steve provides a number of free downloadable resources to supplement his book, Rocket Surgery Made Easy.

Great to use as-is, or to adapt for your own purposes.
  • Sample usability test script
  • Recording consent form
  • Checklists
  • Instructions for Observers
  • Hall Monitor’s Guide
Usability testing scripts & checklists from Steve Krug

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Usability of digital libraries

Colleagues at the University of Edinburgh have produced a heuristic usability review of five digital libraries.

It's quite a detailed paper, but worth a look if you're interested in the range of search interfaces employed across these large online information repositories and the strengths and weaknesses of each.

Usability Inspection of Digital Libraries - report by Lorraine Paterson and Boon Low

Jisc UX 2.0 project website - Usability & Contemporary User Experience in Digital Libraries

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Success with personas

An excellent article by Jared Spool in which he summarises the research he's done into persona projects across a range of companies. He highlights characteristics of successful and unsuccessful attempts to bring personas into the website development process.

We've long believed personas were a valuable design tool. We were initially disheartened by the many failures we'd seen, but now that we've had a chance to study some successes in-depth, we can see teams realizing the promised benefits.

The trick is to not rush into it. Ensuring the organization is at the right place in their user experience maturity is critical. Using a jump-start technique works, but the team needs to follow up with robust research. Finally, keeping the personas alive through frequent discussions, especially around key decisions and trade-off conversations, makes them a valuable design asset.

The Essence of a Successful Persona Project - article by Jared Spool

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Prototyping book by Todd Warfel

I've not read the book yet, but the sample chapter is worth a look, and Todd's podcast interview with Jared Spool does a good job of selling his work.

The sample chapter available from the publisher's website basically makes the case for prototyping: communicating a design concept, making design decisions, testing design concepts.

Prototypes are a great communication tool for fleshing out design ideas, testing assumptions, and gathering real-time feedback from users.

The What and Why of a Prototype - sample chapter from the book Prototyping: A Practitioner’s Guide to Prototyping by Todd Warfel

Todd Warfel talks to Jared Spool - podcast

Prototyping experiences podcast

An interesting conversation about different approaches to prototyping and the tools available.

Todd Zaki Warfel talks to Jared Spool about the book he had recently written (published autumn 2009) in which he researched a range of prototyping tools available and interviewed a number of usability practitioners on their approaches to prototyping.

Todd basically says there is no right or wrong approach - just what's right for you, for your participants and for what you're looking to find out. Doing it is the important thing.

He found people using a wide range of tools; from paper and pencil, to basic office packages - Powerpoint, Visio and even Excel - to more specialist tools like Axure.

The right tool for you is something you're confident using, that will produce the experience you're looking to replicate.

Prototyping Experiences - Todd Warfel in conversation with Jared Spool (listen online or download mp3 podcast)

Prototyping - A Practitioner’s Guide to Prototyping - book by Todd Zaki Warfel

Monday, 8 February 2010

Information Architecture essentials

If you don't know anything much about information architecture - or even if you think you do - this 30 minute podcast is well worth a listen.

Donna Spencer is an experienced IA consultant with lots of experience of information-driven, government websites, which translates well into the university sector.

In this podcast, she speaks with Jared Spool about how she goes about structuring a website, liaising with managers and content owners, and working towards a user-centred structure.

Unsurprisingly, it all boils down to clear business objectives, user goals and an iterative approach. Even the experts don't get it right first time...

Information Architecture Essentials - Donna Spencer in conversation with Jared Spool (listen online or download mp3 podcast)

The download page also includes a text summary of the interview.

Ginny Redish interview - the web as a conversation

An interesting interview with the author of the best book on writing for the web - Letting Go of the Word.

Ginny Redish talks to Jared Spool about writing, content strategy, prototyping and personas.

They're clearly old pals, but thankfully keep the chit-chat and self promotion to a minimum. In the main, this 45 minute podcast is insightful and interesting.

I particularly liked Ginny's analogy of the website as a stool:
Navigation and search, design, and technology are the three legs of a stool. In the stool sits the content: what your visitors are coming for. Why do we spend all of our time building the stool, then all-but ignore what the stool is built to support?

The Web as a Conversation - Ginny Redish in conversation with Jared Spool (listen online or download mp3 podcast)
The download page also includes a text summary of the interview.

Letting Go of the Words (Web content that works) - book by Ginny Redish

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Most difficult-to-use websites survey recently ran a survey canvassing opinion on which industry sector has the most difficult to use websites.

Local government came top. Universities weren't on the list of results. I'm presuming that this is because they weren't an option in the survey - higher education is not really a sector that a full cross section of the population accesses.

Having managed a local government website though, I can say that for me, the challenges are exactly the same as for universities - devolved publishing, insufficient time, resource and expertise, too much content, captive audiences, information driven content with few direct calls to action (so harder to focus and measure)...

So for my money, where Webcredible says 'local government', they may as well be saying 'university'.

The overview article links through to their report on the usability of 20 local government sites. Makes for interesting reading, with most of the things they rate the sites upon equatable to our sector.

Which industry sector has the most difficult to use websites? - article by Jon White for

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Webpage feature locations research findings

An interesting bit of work done at Wichita State University, where researchers asked participants to mark on a blank browser window where abouts they expected to see certain features - the home link, the search box, and so on.

This grid highlights where most people expect to see a 'Back to homepage' link:

Shaded grid illustrating most participants expected the home link to be top left

Where's the Search? Re-examining User Expectations of Web Objects - article by A. Dawn Shaikh & Kelsi Lenz

Usability news

Usability news is published online twice a year by the Software Usability Research Laboratory at Wichita State University. Lots of great stuff in there, although it can be a little heavy and academic for the casual reader.

Usability news archive

Steve Krug's usability test demo

The second chapter of Steve Krug's new book - Rocket Surgery Made Easy - is a single page. He tells you to go to his website and watch him run an accompanied surf usability test.

The 25 minute video is right there on his website. Free to download. Whether or not you bought his book. You should though. It's very good.

Steve Krug demonstrates how to execute a usability testing session - 25 minute video

Free chapters of Steve Krug's Rocket Surgery book

Monday, 1 February 2010

Business needs vs user needs

Jared Spool has written a nice article which could almost be rewritten as:
"Business needs versus development priorities versus user needs."

He presumes that the developers have an understanding of the end user which isn't always the case. I think sometimes a development is pulled in three directions.

While this article is primarily about the development of web applications, the principles apply equally to content development.

I think the examples he includes make it an interesting and accessible article, even if you're not involved in applications development.

...Where Business Needs and User Needs Collide - article by Jared Spool

Gerry McGovern on distributed publishing

Take, for example, the web 'management' approach called distributed publishing. The theory was: buy the tool, train people to use it and watch them go.

What happened? Each division or department that the publishing tool was distributed to sought to publish to the website with the absolute minimum resource input.

If ever there was a disastrous non-strategy it is distributed publishing. It led to website junkyards full of vanity publishing and out of date garbage.
Sound like a familiar scenario? Gerry isn't a fan of devolved publishing models, in case you couldn't tell...

When do you have too much information? - article by Gerry McGovern

See also:
Less is more for university websites - article by Gerry McGovern

Web-based prototyping tools reviewed

This article from Bunnyfoot covers a range of online prototyping tools available at the moment.

There are four reviewed: Mockflow, iPlotz, Balsamiq and Mockingbird.

I had a play with Mockingbird last month. If anyone has experience of the others, leave a comment.

Web-based prototyping tools reviewed at

Bunnyfoot are a UK usability consultancy, with an office in Edinburgh.

My university webpage wireframe demo using Mockingbird