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Usability test of the Kent State IAKM home page

Note: this report shows the results of a usability test of the Information Architecture and Knowledge Management program web site at Kent State University in 2003. The site has since been redesigned.

1. Introduction

In usability study of the IAKM web site I found a number of serious problems. Current IAKM students were asked to complete a series of tasks using the site. Although participants were able to complete the tasks 91.67 percent of the time, they met all performance goals for each task only 36.11 percent of the time. The site is not fundamentally broken, but clearly there is room for improvement. Through statistical analysis, observations of the students, and remarks made by the students a number of issues were uncovered.

Many of the problems were global problems with site navigation and labeling, but there were also a number of prominent local problems. The severity of problems were rated via three categories:

  • Severe—prevents the user from completing a task or results in catastrophic loss of data or time.
  • Moderate—significantly hinders task completion but users can find a work-around.
  • Minor—irritating to the user but does not significantly hinder task completion. (Artim, 1).

Problems are also rated by scope. Any problem can be either global, meaning it applies to most pages or the site as a whole, or local, meaning it is particular to a page or specific section. Global problems are generally more pressing than local ones.

Findings are presented first in order of importance, followed by a description of the study methods.

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Information visualizations and spatial maps on the web – Usability concerns

Visualizing the web

Although web technologies are constantly changing, most users still browse the web the same way they did back in 1995–typing keywords into search boxes, clicking from home page, to section, to subsection on a navigation bar, or following link, to link, to link. The fact that it is called a “web” suggests that there should be other ways of navigating websites, and there are a number of projects attempting to employ information visualizations and spatial maps to do so.

All web pages organize information visually, but “information visualization centers around helping people explore or explain data that is not inherently spatial, such as that from the domains of bioinformatics, data mining and databases, finance and commerce, telecommunications and networking, information retrieval from large text corpora, software, and computer-supported cooperative work.” (“InfoVis 2003 Symposium”) Spatial metaphors are used to communicate different levels of information. A simple, static example would be a personal homepage built to look like the designers home, with links to favorite movies in the living room and recipes in the kitchen. A more advanced example would be a customer relationship management system for a large company which instead of presenting a list of technical support problems and solutions, displays an interactive map of problems, with more common problems in a larger font size, and recent problems in red. In both cases, users get an immediate grasp of complex information.

Such visualizations are intended to help solve two current web usability problems: the lack of a wide view to web structure, and the lack of query refinement based on relationships of retrieved pages (Ohwada 548). But they must do so without creating additional usability barriers. This paper will describe three current information visualization projects and describe some of the usability issues these sorts of projects face.

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