Tag Archives: usability

Collaborating with Rave-in-Context and how our projects differ!

iphone mockupYesterday Liz Masterton and I sat down to discuss evaluations and Liz kindly showed me how her mock ups for the Rave-in-Context project templates would work on an iPhone, iPad and small laptop screen.  We looked at myexperiment and chatted about usability issues in particular how users would be able to access their research on a small screen phone!

Liz added to the Rave-in-Context wiki an extremely useful report on usability and mobile technologies with several links.

It is interesting to note the difference between adapting a service, such as myexperiment for a smaller screen and the issues around changing the use of a service as is the case with the ALUIAR project.   Here we are looking at a service really designed to house lectures and discussions with the ability to synchronise the transcription and comments as well as add slides and Twitter additions.  Now we want to make it into a service that will take coding conventions for researches, colour and font changes as well as allow easier uploading of files and export features.  Quite a step change from usability as well as a learnability point of view!

However, I felt that the ALUIAR project team was not only working in a similar way to Rave-in-Context,  with our story boarding but as has been stressed by users we have to make the service easy to learn and remember!   Hence our discussions around the 1 – 2 -3 – 4 -5 step approach to working through the various aspects of the Synote service. It is hoped this will help those new to Synote, but that the re-design of the interface is more usable and memorable so that returning after a lull in a research project is not a daunting task! Perhaps it could be equated to learning to drive a car – see below!

I then came across a Jeff Atwood’s 2005 blog on Usability vs. Learnability that had an interesting quote towards the end taken from Joel Spolsky’s book on User Interface Design for Programmers.

It takes several weeks to learn how to drive a car. For the first few hours behind the wheel, the average teenager will swerve around like crazy. They will pitch, weave, lurch, and sway. If the car has a stick shift they will stall the engine in the middle of busy intersections in a truly terrifying fashion.

If you did a usability test of cars, you would be forced to conclude that they are simply unusable.

This is a crucial distinction. When you sit somebody down in a typical usability test, you’re really testing how learnable your interface is, not how usable it is. Learnability is important, but it’s not everything. Learnable user interfaces may be extremely cumbersome to experienced users. If you make people walk through a fifteen-step wizard to print, people will be pleased the first time, less pleased the second time, and downright ornery by the fifth time they go through your rigamarole.

Sometimes all you care about is learnability: for example, if you expect to have only occasional users. An information kiosk at a tourist attraction is a good example; almost everybody who uses your interface will use it exactly once, so learnability is much more important than usability. But if you’re creating a word processor for professional writers, well, now usability is more important.

And that’s why, when you press the brakes on your car, you don’t get a little dialog popping up that says “Stop now? (yes/no).”

Thoughts about initial system evaluations

PlanningInterviews to find out what stakeholders feel about Synote, as it is at the moment, are well underway.   Initially we were going to record all the sessions, but as these seem to be extending to around 2 hours at times, I have been using Microsoft OneNote and a scoring system for each web page encountered of 1-6 as to how easy it is to use.  I would like to ask everyone to send me a short audio file that sums up the main comments made during the interview so I can add them to Synote for future comparisons.

In the meantime we have also introduced the System Usability Scale as a ‘quick and dirty’ way of scoring feelings about Synote.  I have set up an iSurvey questionnaire so everyone can use the online version if I have not asked you to fill in a paper based version.

I would like to take this opportunity for thanking those who have already taken part in early interviews and look forward to the remaining few.   I will be back to constantly update all aspects of the development of Synote as a research tool so we can story board the next stage.

Project Aims and Objectives

ALUIAR interface for the researcherThis project aims to improve the usability and learnability of the user interface of Synote, the open source web based video and audio annotation tool. There is the need support those researchers, non-specialist and novice users who wish to transcribe audio and video recordings with synchronised text.

The key objective is to present users with an interface that is not only easy to use but is designed to suit the needs of researchers when uploading materials rather than the original users of Synote who tend to search and listen to lectures.

None of the main functionality of thee  tool will be changed, but the way in which it will be used will be enhanced, so that it is more intuitive and logical to use. Existing users have already commented on some of the issues that need to be re-examined, such as navigation flexibility, interface learnability and the organisation of recordings and search features etc.

An ethnographic approach will be taken to benchmark Synote’s current performance. A small group of users will be interviewed and ‘walked through’ the tool whilst having their opinions, concerns and behaviour (whilst using the tool) monitored. These results will then be ranked and implemented to help identify the changes that should be made to Synote. These changes will be discussed again with the stakeholders and implemented using an agile interactive approach involving end users in regular co-design, and review meetings.

The success of interventions will be measured by the participants completing a questionnaire based on John Brookes System Usability Scale (SUS) and by quantifying the qualitative results gathered in interviews from the participants.  It is felt that due to time constraints the number of interviews that take place before storyboarding interface designs will be minimal. Nielsen (2000) states that “the best results come from testing no more than 5 users and running as many small tests as you can afford.”  The stated methods will provide quantitative and qualitative results that will inform the need to improve the adaptability, usability and learnability of Synote. Two other methods were considered but discarded due to the size of the project and time of year with many users going on holiday during July and August:

  1. Large Focus Groups – This would give a much richer pool of qualitative data, but as time is short this is an unrealistic data gathering method to undertake without going over schedule.
  2. Mass-questionnaire – These would give a greater pool of data, but work by  Nielsen (2000) also showed that “the ultimate user experience is improved much more by three tests with 5 users than by a single test with 15 users.”