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We Never Know What Others See


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9 replies to this topic

#1 bwelford

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Posted 25 July 2003 - 06:57 AM

There's an interesting paper just surfaced on Usability issues by an important name, Rolph Molich. You can learn more on Jared Spool's web site, User Interface Engineering, in the Interview with Rolph Molich. This is all part of the movement to turn Usability from an art into a science. However as this interview shows, when 7 teams independently examined the same web site, they all found problems but they were all different problems!

I think there is a more fundamental factor at play. I described it in a short paper, "Six Important Words".

Building on that, I am always intrigued at "the ones that got away". Once they are on the web site, then we can examine how they move around and when they click away. But what about those who saw our listing at #3 in a SERP and decided to look at other sites in the list. What caused them to do that? How many were there like this?

In other words, how many fish looked at our baited hook and never even nibbled. How can we get more nibbles?

Barry Welford

#2 dragonlady7

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Posted 25 July 2003 - 07:54 AM

It's true, we never know what others see. When I made my first website it never occurred to me that anyone might need to use it. I wrote basically an essay on the front page, and the navigation system consisted of hyperlinks sprinkled throughout the essay. I had maybe two people ever visit it, so that didn't bother me much.
The place where I first became really aware of the differing opinions of others in relation to my work was in the writing critiques in my creative writing classes. I got really used to the workshop style of critique so common in creative writing circles, and it never ceased to fascinate me as you went around the room, listening to the wildly differing viewpoints of your fellow writers in turns. (Anyone unfamiliar with a writing workshop: the general format is that you arrange the desks in a circle (or sit around a table), and the person whose work is being critiqued has to sit silently [no words at all!!!] as each person takes a turn to say what they liked, what they didn't like, and what really needs to be changed. Only once everyone has said everything they want to can the writer speak for any reason. It's agonizing! You're like the goose in duck-duck-goose.)
And as you were sitting there, listening to your masterwork being shredded, it was always so frustrating to realize that you hadn't made the most important details clear. Somehow, you had failed to make it clear that, say, your hero was secretly a robot, and so everyone was missing the whole point of your story about him finding his place in the world or whatever it was about. But at the same time, you would realize that people had found their own meaning in the absence of the one you had intended, and their meaning was far more strongly supported by the actual words of the story. It was fascinating!

So, usability applies to anything you make that others will see, and it's always a shock to see what people are actually doing with your creation. This website I'm just finishing up with for my job is like that-- there are two navigation systems and people are using the one I figured was mostly decorative and redundant, and ignoring the one I sweated blood to make really fabulously usable. I set up our living room so that you could sit comfortably in a certain place, and my boyfriend never sits there. I don't know who invented the office chair but did they think so many people would sit backwards in them? But it's so comfy...

I guess my point is that you're right, we never know what others see, and so if we design from a narrow perspective of what works best for us, we're missing valuable perspective. It's not just that others might find our designs unusable (or our stories unreadable, or our chairs uncomfortable), it's that they might find them perfectly usable in ways we hadn't anticipated, and thus weren't prepared for.
If I'd known they'd like that minor character, I wouldn't've cut out that big part I gave her. If I'd known they'd sit like that in my chairs I wouldn't have made the back of this model so decoratively wide. If I'd known they'd use that first navigation system, I would have taken a little more care over it and not spent so long killing myself for minor details in the other. If I'd realized that left-handed people existed in this world I wouldn't have sculpted my mouse so obnoxiously right-handedly! (Er, sorry. Pet peeve. I like an ambidextrous mouse because I'm ambidextrous. Stupid ergonomic pieces of junk they keep sticking me with at work!)

#3 Jill

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Posted 25 July 2003 - 08:34 AM

However as this interview shows, when 7 teams independently examined the same web site, they all found problems but they were all different problems!

That doesn't actually surprise me that much!

I think it shows you that it's important to have different people or teams analyzing sites.

Since I've been having Kim Krause do site reviews for my clients, it's been so much better for my clients. They get a totally different perspective from what Kim sees compared to what I see. Now granted, Kim is looking at them from a usability perspective and I'm looking more at the SEO stuff, and there sometimes is some overlap with what we see. Still, I imagine if I had someone else analysing the site, perhaps someone with a highly technical background they would see other things altogether!

But what about those who saw our listing at #3 in a SERP and decided to look at other sites in the list. What caused them to do that? How many were there like this?

Well, that's usually caused by your Title not clearly being related to what it is that the searcher is looking for. Along with the snippet or description not seeming relevant.

Strictly speaking as a searcher, to me, if the words I'm searching for are in the Title tag and in a snippet, I usually give a look unless there are other indications that the page in question really isn't what I'm looking for. Like they use the words in a totally different way than I meant them, or something like that.

Jill

#4 cre8pc

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Posted 07 August 2003 - 04:47 PM

However as this interview shows, when 7 teams independently examined the same web site, they all found problems but they were all different problems!


A lot was made out of this article but I think the point wasn't that so many testers found so many different things and therefore didn't find the same things, but the fact that they did find so many different things was the true value of the study.

One of the biggest gripes in usability testing is that it's done AFTER a project is completed. In Quality Assurance testing, I'm the usability/user interface tester and by the time I get to see final web pages, or the final layout of an Internet software application, it's too late to turn back if I find glaring usability oriented errors. Chances are the code is in lockdown, or near to it and rollback or re-code often takes some political manuvering.

So, they leave the user feedback to the marketing department, which is a poor way of introducing a new site or product. They collect customer feedback and with any luck, the actual website builders will see it. But don't count on it. The people in charge are more likely scribbing Phase 2 on white boards and giddy with excitement over new enhancements and possibly different platforms. They're not going to change something to meet user needs.

They want to meet their own needs instead. (But, I digress!)

The beauty of multiple evaluations is that you can see how a website or software application is REALLY used. You can witness the "human factors" side of design, which is the component often overlooked. There's as many ways to navigate as there are people but we try to nail down preferences and common elements so that the process is fast and easy to learn for everyone.

There's also two types of users (actually more, but 2 is a good baseline to consider). The first-time visitor is my favorite because everything is new and unfamiliar. Watch them and see where they go.

The return customer/visitor has less of a learning curve and if you left an easy way to do it, printed out some of your pages, or they bookmarked some. You want to find ways to attract them back into the site again. Do you have a new sale? Amazon loves to remember customers. They even suggest what others bought that may be recommended as a companion to what you already purchased. They certainly don't sell a book and forget you ever came to their site.

Usability is about many things, including loyalty. How you earn it is up to you. But you can see from the different types of website studies and their feedback that pleasing everyone is a very big job :rolleyes:

Kim

#5 Scottie

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Posted 07 August 2003 - 05:17 PM

KIM!!

So cool to see you here- :whip:

Thanks for dropping by- great advice!

#6 meta

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Posted 07 August 2003 - 05:42 PM

One of the biggest gripes in usability testing is that it's done AFTER a project is completed.

Really, that's the norm? We have done testing on paper mock-ups of our site - testers get a list of things to do or look for on the site, and then they look at the paper and show an observer how they would try to do the thing or find the information. The site still has usability problems, though.

#7 cre8pc

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Posted 07 August 2003 - 08:47 PM

Smart companies test mock ups and even get into focus group testing pre-build, but others are in too much of a hurry or are unaware of the benefits of pre-testing.

My guess for still having problems is functional. All the steps it takes to get from point A to point H without straying from the intended click path are often not truly figured out until people actually start down the path. Maybe they didn't see the button, or it wasn't clearly labeled, for example. On paper, things are more obvious. Also, the environment of the user isn't taken into consideration. Sitting people down in an uninterrupted test environment is much different than watching the office employee doing online research or proceeding towards online checkout while being interrupted 148 times a day. :hmm:

A lot depends on the level of experience of the website designer and/or company setting. It takes time to understand how people use websites. Everyone is different. I have a lot of respect for web designers who watch how pages are used and listen to feedback. So many of them are afraid to just ask!

One woman I did a review for today was estatic and wrote back to tell me how everyone is afraid to be honest and tell her what's really needed on her site. She was very grateful for an expert eye, but more than that, someone who could tell her what she needed, what areas could be improved and what was working well already. This is someone who runs a home business and can't afford pre-testing, nor would she have thought to have done so. People in her position rely on feedback, but often don't know where to seek unbiased opinions.

Kim

#8 meta

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Posted 08 August 2003 - 09:01 AM

You're absolutely right that the path to the information our visitors want is very complicated. I often have trouble finding material myself. My impression is that the biggest reason for our usability problems is that the site was designed to address our management's growth strategy, while the customers have a different approach in mind. The designers respected the direction that was given to them.

#9 cre8pc

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Posted 08 August 2003 - 09:22 AM

My impression is that the biggest reason for our usability problems is that the site was designed to address our management's growth strategy, while the customers have a different approach in mind. The designers respected the direction that was given to them.


I agree. It's been my experience that the business stakeholders govern the game and the designers do what they're told, and make the best of what can sometimes be complicated, not well thought out plans.

I see this in freelance too. How many website builders don't show their work because it's based on client preferences, which are often in conflict with practicality, usability, or logic? The result is a crappy site, or something not too fit to show others. Sad, but true.

Educating everyone on what makes a website "good" is great. The union of SEO and usability is a real plus and makes for even smarter sites. Rah Rah! :yay:

Kim

#10 mtdreamer

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 08:40 AM

The union of SEO and usability is a real plus and makes for even smarter sites.


Right now I am in the process of putting together strategies and processes for our web team for SEM (organic and paid searching), usability and accessibility. Even with those big 3 variables, there are many more on top of them (all the different types of people to deal with)! It can be mind boggling!

Reminds me of my days of coaching track. Trying to find the best way of taking all your talent, motivating them to do their best and achieving the best results possible, while dealing with ever-changing weather, events beyond our control and the emotions that go with success and failure.

So, why am I saying all that? Well, there are times when we get overwhelmed by all that needs to be figured out, but yet, that is where all the excitement and suspense comes from that makes it a very interesting challenge. Hang in there everyone and enjoy! Keep striving to get better at what you do! :eek:

(What can I say...there is still a bit of a coach in me.) :D




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