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Introducing a New Blog Series! The Adventures of Phil, “Usabili-Dweeb”

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Introducing a New Blog Series! The Adventures of Phil, “Usabili-Dweeb”

Here at eVOC, we spend the majority of our time focusing on online usability; whether it’s websites, products, or mobile apps, we consider ourselves experts in the customer experience online. And we’re really proud of that!

But when this passion of ours starts to seep into the world outside the Web, we officially morph from experts into…

USABILI-DWEEBS

Usabili-Dweeb
It’s ironic that we can be considered dweeby as soon as we extend our craft away from the computer. After all, when you think of a dweeb, don’t you think of this guy, always at the computer? But the Internet has become such an integral part of doing business and getting things done, that our dweeby computer and web knowledge is now actually considered an advantage rather than an object of ridicule. And that’s OK with us – especially since “experts” sounds more professional than “dweebs.”

From “dweeb” to “expert”…who’s laughing now?

A few times a month, as your resident Usabili-Dweeb, I’ll give an example of a real-world usability problem that I’ve encountered outside the job. In each case, someone will be failing to adhere to basic design principles that apply to the real world in the same way that they apply to the Web. I hope these examples help steer you towards best practices that can be applied to your websites.

In this edition…

Week 1: Going Up?

Our office is on the 16th floor of a historic building in downtown San Francisco. Recently, they updated all of the lighting in the lobby, which included the fixtures next to and above the 8 elevator doors.

Lobby: Before Lobby: After

Before:

  • Indicator light was mounted to the right of each elevator on one side, and to the lefton the other
    • Upper half turned white when it was going up
    • Lower half turned red when it was going down
  • One cause for confusion
    • Did each light refer to the elevator on the left or the right? (Severity: Moderate)

After:

  • Indicator light is mounted above each elevator
    • Entire light turns white when it’s going up
    • Entire light turns red when it’s going down
  • Bright wall lights hang between each elevator (also white)
  • 4 causes for confusion
    • New elevator lights are very dim in comparison to wall lights and are hard to see (Severity: High)
    • Dinging noise of arriving elevator is now quieter, making it more difficult to know which one to walk towards (Severity: High)
    • All wall-mounted lights are the same color (white), causing a delay in figuring out which one is lit (Severity: High)
    • For those new to the building, it is unclear whether the white indicator light signifies a direction, or just that the elevator is open (Severity: Low)

Bring in the Usabili-Dweebs

The changes they’ve made have really bothered us Usabili-Dweebs, so much so that we have mentioned it to the folks at the front desk (they hate us). We told them that the new design violates usability principles in the following 3 categories (shameless plug: these are some of the metrics upon which we evaluate websites when we do heuristic expert reviews).

1. Aesthetic Integrity
Is there a clear visual hierarchy with graphic elements and visual cues to help users?
– Nope.

2. Feedback
Does the design keep users informed and indicate task progression?
– Not very well.

3. Communication & Relevance
Can users rely on recognition rather than recall?
– Definitely not.

So how does this apply to a website?

Let’s run through the above 3 usability principles again.

Let’s start with aesthetic integrity: Just as it’s crucial for people to quickly access their desired floor in a building, you want to make sure that users click on a link, view a promotion, find information, or purchase something on your website. It is imperative that the visual cues are clear so that your site visitors are not lost or delayed. Because, unlike in the office building, they might get so frustrated they actually leave.

Feedback: People must be well informed of what happens during a process. A good example of this is online checkout: users want to know what step they’re on, how far they’ve come, and how far they have to go. Feedback also helps orient them on the site. When I’m standing in the lobby and I don’t know how long I have to wait or where I need to go, I get frustrated.

And communication: Any site has to be learned to some extent. But if users have to remember where things are, even after coming to the site time and time again, the site is not intuitive enough. Similarly, when I walk into my building and push the elevator button, I can’t easily recognize where the arriving elevator is, and it takes me a few seconds to figure it out every time.

In closing

Many of the guidelines we use to evaluate websites apply very well to real-world examples. Perhaps this isn’t such a surprise. After all, the online realm was created to mimic, simplify, and enhance our real-world experiences. So it’s only natural that we can apply so many of our web-based design and usability principles to our own lives.

In the coming weeks, look for more real-world examples of common usability problems – from me, the Usabili-Dweeb! And if you happen to run into any dweebs out there, please do not take my lunch money.