Research Studies

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The Power of Iterative Design and Testing

Jakob Nielson’s article, Weekly User Testing: TiVo Did It, You Can Too provides a great case study supporting testing early and frequently in the design process to produce exceptional design. Having worked with TiVo, I can say that their approach to usability and research is stellar, and their user experience team is very talented, so it is great to see this recognition.

The specific web redesign project mentioned in the article enforced TiVo’s user-focused culture, and finally brought user-friendliness to its website. As Nielson quotes:

“I’m selling you a product where the key differentiator is ease of use,” says Margret Schmidt, the company’s vice president of user experience and design, “but if the website isn’t easy to use, how will you believe that the product is? We tried to bring that to the site.”

The outcome: TiVo’s new website is simple and clear while still being media-rich, and scored in the top 20% of Nielson’s study on web usability.

Nielson summarizes the benefits of this approach well with the following main points:

  1. Costs the company less.
  2. Offers motivation.
  3. Helps drive business decisions.
  4. Creates a testing culture.
  5. Builds internal knowledge.

I wholly advocate for this approach as it improves design. Period. No matter how good a graphic designer, interaction designer, content writer or product manager you are; there are invaluable insights you will get from testing frequently that will improve your final product.

Testing at this level not only reduces costs, but also facilitates inter-departmental collaboration (see our previous article: Avoiding the Problems of Design by Committee). Just think, TiVo conducted only 12 tests in 12 weeks. How many projects do you know of that have accomplished that much in 12 weeks with such a usable and appealing outcome?

Most Visited Sites On the Mobile Web

According to the Business Week, Americans don’t visit the same web sites on their mobile devices as they do on their PC’s. Websites such as craigslist and eBay, ranked at number 1 and number 2 respectively, gain six or more spots in the mobile realm than on traditional devices. The article goes on to explain the browsing habits for weekends versus weekdays, stating “On Saturday, Classifieds Rule.”

Other leaders behind craigslist and eBay include Facebook at number 3, MySpace at 4 and Walt Disney’s at number 5.

See also the accompanying slideshow: Where People Go on the Mobile Web.

Bank of America Website Verification Meaningless to Users

An MIT and Harvard study (via Slashdot) unveils that the SiteKey system employed by Bank of America, ING Direct and Yahoo!, among others are likely ineffective at protecting users against fraudulent sites. The SiteKey system is based on assigning an image to a user’s account and presenting it prior to the user entering a password. If the SiteKey does not match the user’s account image, he/she should deduce that the site is not authentic, and thus not safe to enter private information. The results of the study (based on Bank of America site and users) shows that a vast majority of people ignore the SiteKey clues along with the often-overlooked HTTPS indicators. In fact, only 2 of the 25 (8%) participants using their own account, and none of the other 42, chose not to enter their passwords when the site-authentication image was replaced by an upgrade message.

Another interesting finding in the study was the contrast between behaviors of participants that were role playing for the study and those that were actually inputting sensitive information. Definitely worth a read and the final paper is set to appear at the IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy from May 20-27, 2007 in Oakland, California.

Eye Tracking Study of Image-Rich Web Pages

The latest issue of Usability News from the Software Usability and Research Lab (SURL), has a very interesting study – “Eye Gaze Patterns while Searching vs. Browsing a Website” – on web users’ eye gaze patterns while browsing and searching web sites. Findings from the study show that the ‘F’ pattern as described by Jakob Nielson does not hold true for some kinds of web sites.

Results show that users follow a fairly uniform scan path when browsing through pictures, and a more random path while specifically searching through them.

In fact, not only does the study suggest that users’ viewing patterns depend on the nature of the web page (text-rich versus image-rich) but also by the users’ tasks (browsing versus searching).

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Is Your Website Perfect?

What if you could measure how perfect your website was? If you could definitively say that your website was 100%, pure perfection, wouldn’t you grasp the chance to test how it fares in the test? Well, the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) recently released the results of a study commissioned by Rackspace Managed Hosting which claims to provide exactly this: the ‘Perfect Website Formula.’

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Researching Concepts with Comics According to Mark Wehner, Yahoo! Inc.

Two weeks ago, I attended a talk given by Mark Wehner of Yahoo! Inc. at a BayCHI event in Mountain View. At first glance many may balk at the idea of conducting research through mere drawings, but having heard and seen the impact this tool can make, I am now a huge enthusiast for this exploratory process. I am writing this article in the hopes that more companies and user experience designers investigate this technique to see how it can enhance their own product research.

This article summarizes the key concepts behind researching with comics as presented in the talk along with some other considerations around this technique.

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