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Dec 2005 Contents

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World Usability Day in Scotland

by Chris Rourke
Managing Director of User Vision
President of the Scottish UPA
chris@uservision.co.uk

Chris Rourke Chris Rourke is Managing Director of User Vision, based in Edinburgh and President of the Scottish UPA. His background is in human factors and he has worked on a wide variety of projects on web, product design and software usability.

The Scottish chapter of the UPA (SUPA) is one of the newest in the worldwide network, having formed only about a year ago. We have had enthusiastic support from a core group of UPA members and non members attending our monthly meetings but recognised the need to get the word out to a wider audience and show them what good usability can offer. World Usability Day provided the perfect opportunity.

We decided that the best way to tell Scotland about usability was to:

  • Give them a chance to experience usability
  • Let them hear some success stories from those who have applied usability

The events started with a well attended 'hands on' session at the offices of User Vision. The "Usability Obstacle Course" was attended by about 60 visitors, each of whom was given a guide to the activities and a score sheet for rating their own success and rating of difficulty on a series of usability challenges that awaited then throughout the building.

The "obstacles" were designed to reveal the design features that can make or break the user experience, and everyone had a chance to see if they could succeed in the tasks such as:

  • Set the VCR to record a TV programme
  • Buy a product online from a website
  • Change the ring tone on a mobile phone
  • Transfer a song to an MP3 player - and then play it
  • Guess the icon functions on a printer
  • Open the plastic packaging on a product - without using their teeth!
The epic battle: Man vs. VCR
The epic battle: Man vs. VCR

Some of the results are worth noting:
" Only half the visitors could change the ring tone on a Nokia 6630 mobile phone and most gave it a rating of 'very difficult', whilst 92% could perform the task on a Samsung D500.

  • It took an average of 3.12 minutes to set the VCR (the slowest was over 6 minutes, and there was notable (and audible) exasperation in front of the telly!
  • Opening the packaging of a plastic wrapped CD took nearly one minute on average with the record being set at 9 seconds. (And a few broken nails in the process!)
  • In the battle of the MP3 Players, the iPOD won handily over Creative's Zen Micro, although previous familiarity with the popular pod no doubt helped some.
  • Nine percent were unable to make an e-commerce purchase due to difficulties in using the site - something that many e-retailers should note.
  • Less than 60% of people could figure out what the icons on our printer mean. (That's why we've had to stick little labels on them!)
Printer icons - are these symbols supposed to MEAN something?
Printer icons - are these symbols supposed to MEAN something?
Now, there must be ring tones in here somewhere…
Now, there must be ring tones in here somewhere…

Many Eyes on Usability Testing - and Ears on Accessibility
The other main event of the afternoon was a rolling programme of usability tests on a variety of sites, including e-government, finance, online travel and e-commerce.

On one side of a one-way mirror in User Vision's Usability test lab, a test subject worked through tasks and described his or her impressions to a User Vision consultant, whilst on the other side up to a dozen observers were riveted by the user's every move and comment.

Viewers watching a compelling usability test from the observation room
Viewers watching a compelling usability test from the observation room.
A room with a view. Observers in User Vision's usability test lab
A room with a view. Observers in User Vision's usability test lab.

There were some moments of teeth-gnashing frustration from the observers, who thought they could see what would be the most logical next step, which often was not seen by the test subject. The value of usability testing was clearly demonstrated, and the subject's comments and actions clearly showed up some issues in the sites tested.

In User Vision's focus group room a demonstration of screen readers used by blind and partially sighted web users was a compelling introduction to web accessibility. Many visitors took the opportunity to 'hear' their sites as a blind user would, whilst User Vision consultants explained the accessibility features or shortcomings. Certainly the importance of creating accessible sites was highlighted after getting an insight into how many disabled people use the web.

More From the Day
Overall, the events at User Vision were very successful and enjoyable for everyone. It helped to raise awareness of usability and allowed visitors to understand the obstacles that consumers faced when using everyday products, software or websites.

Serious concentration from web and MP3 users
Serious concentration from web and MP3 users.
Overall, the events at User Vision were very successful and enjoyable for everyone. It helped to raise awareness of usability and allowed visitors to understand the obstacles that consumers faced when using everyday products, software or websites.

Scottish Usability Showcase
From the hands on demonstration, we went to the showcase of the methods and benefits of usability and accessibility.

Over sixty people attended the free event which was a series of short 15-minute case studies of usability success. Six speakers from a variety of organisations shared their experience of performing activities to improve the usability of their product, software, mobile device or websites. The highly visual presentation included:

  • Redesign of a complex online financial application process into a simple and intuitive experience for the end user.
  • Applying advanced accessibility techniques in the development of a community web site for people with the learning disability Down's Syndrome.
  • Improving the user experience for telephone contact centre agents through observational studies and iterative improvements to their screen design.
  • Integrating iterative usability methods and industrial design methods in creating a user-centred programmable thermostat control.
  • Applying user-centred design methodologies in a variety of product design and development projects.
  • Creating a highly accessible local government website through following web standards.

All of these talks showed the breadth of usability, the variety of platforms where it can be applied, and most importantly, the benefits to the end users and the organisations involved. Again the audience went away enthused with the benefits that usability can deliver.

The two events certainly planted the seeds for greater awareness of usability across Scotland and greater attendance at future Scottish UPA events.

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