Code4LibBC Workshop: Usability On a Budget

I taught a workshop last week on doing usability on a budget. Usability is such a big topic that it’s impossible to cover everything in just 3 hours, but it’s a quick overview of how to put some of these methods into practice in a low cost, low resource way.

These are the notes I have along with all the links and such.

While I list methods in getting user feedback at certain points, all of them can be used in multiple places and which ones you use depend a great deal on your comfort level, resources that are available, time of year, and other factors.

Before You Begin

Before you do any development, designing or usability testing, you should a project plan in place, which includes

  • goal or objective,
  • website requirements,
  • who is involved, and
  • timeline.

Lots of resources are available in creating a project plan, so I’ll not talk about it here. However, do consider something short like a one pager.

You can gather website requirements in various ways. If you want to get any idea from your users, you might try

  • focus groups, or
  • online surveys.

Focus groups can take a lot of time and effort to organize, so if you’re on a tight timeline, you might only do this with staff only or integrate some of the questions into other exercises, such as a card sort.

Online surveys are obviously less time consuming than focus groups and easier to analyze the results since you can ask quantitative question. However, getting enough users might be a problem and you don’t want to do more than one online survey per projects, so you may want to save this options for later steps.

Who Are Your Users?

While you may have a good idea who your users are, it’s always a good idea to have at least a basic sketch of your users to remind yourself (and anyone else working on the website) to keep them all in mind.

User personas involve creating a fictional profile of various users, representing all the user groups you have. While each profile is fictional, you might base aspects of each on real people

* NCSU Libraries & Interview Process
* University of Washington Library
* Cornell University Library

I also highly encourage you to consider users with disabilities and other barriers when using websites and technology in general.

Your Content

Card Sort

Card sorts are a great way to get a better idea on how to organize the content that you already have. The basic idea is you give a group of users index cards (though I always use sticky notes) with the name of your pages, then have them organize the cards into groups.

If you think you already have a very good idea on how the groups are organized, you can do a closed card sort where you have the headings for the groups already on the wall (or table) for users to slot into.

It’s also a good opportunity to ask users if the groups and labels make sense to them, as well as if anything is missing or no longer needed.

Task analysis

Depending on your project, you might also consider doing a task analysis. This is particularly useful in library web services that span multiple systems.

For example, if someone is searching for a book and the library doesn’t have it, what happens? How do they know they can use ILL? Can a user get to the ILL system easily? Will they know what to do? Is it obvious that this other system belongs to the library as well?

You basically want to look at a single task in detail to see what the user experience is like. For the example above, you might take screenshots, print them out, and then do a full workflow to analyze where the process might break down.

Mock Your Site

By which I actually mean, let’s make mock ups.

The best thing to start with are paper sketches. Just sketch out your ideas. See what you think, see what others think, get some more ideas.

Doing a sketch of just the layout is usually referred to as a wireframe, and really good for getting feedback on the general layout. You can do this on paper or digitally. There are lots of online tools to help with wireframing.

Once you have a better idea of what you want to do, you want to make mocks ups, usually digital versions where you can pick colours, fonts, icons, images, and some of the wording.

Graphic Editing Software
* (free, Windows)
* GIMP (free)
* Acorn (MAC)
* Photoshop (subscription available)

Online Tools
* mockingbird
* HotGloo

Guerrilla Usability

Guerrilla usability testing is a great way to do usability on a budget. The idea is you’re doing short studies/tests/questionnaires simply by asking users that pass by. The great thing about working in a library is that you already have the space to do this.

At this stage of the process, you want to take your mockup(s) and ask your users some basic questions. If you want to use your digital mockups, consider printing them out instead of relying on a device. It’s lighter and easier to bring around too!

Your quick study might be for any number of purposes, such as:
* asking which of two or three designs they prefer
* First Click Testing (where you ask the users where they would click first based on the scenario or task you provide)
* asking if design fits the goal you’re working towards

Does It Work?


Once you’re done with your mockups, obviously you want to start making your website. There are a lot of prototyping tools online, and there are many popular frameworks that people like to use as well (e.g. bootstrap).

If you’re just testing how something works in a single page, you might use something like webmaker or jsbin.

You can also do basic prototyping by uploading images to a prototyping site (or something similar using a desktop tool) where you would then specify hotspots for linking between pages. Check out the “tour” video on one of the sites for more information.

* marvel app
* invision app

However, in most cases, you want to test it within the system that the website will live. The ideal situation is if you can get a test instance or at least be able to run test pages within the system.

If for some reason you cannot get a test instance or even a page, you might also consider installing a copy locally if possible. Many of the open source packages have 1-click installers for you to run locally.

Test Your Site

Obviously you want to test your site to make sure it works well enough for your usability testing. Particularly, you want to test the functionality. If you’re using a prototyping tool, you might also consider whether there are any barriers to potential users that might not exist in a live website.

If you’re using a “live” website for testing, before you give it to your users, you want to test your code as well.

Usability Testing

After you’ve developed a prototype, you want to test it with real world users. You might use an actual usability lab with different types of desktop computers set up with all the recording software and equipment (possibly even one way mirror). If you don’t have one of those at your organization to use, consider more guerrilla usability testing.

Set yourself up in a high traffic (but not too noisy) place with a laptop that has all the necessary recording software and a built-in webcam. Have that recording permission form ready to be signed along with some appropriate incentive (and whatever other material you require).

Recording Software
* Wink (free, Windows)
* CamStudio (free, Windows)
* Camtasia (Windows)
* Quicktime (built-in, MAC)
* Silverback (MAC)

Getting User Feedback

Go where the users are

Getting users as they pass or online is always easier than getting them to a room, but if you have to use a room (especially for longer sessions), then make it in a central location on campus.

Provide Incentive

An appropriate incentive is always necessary. While full size chocolate bars are much more effective than the bite sized ones in reeling students to participate, you will obviously not give away full size ones when you are only asking for 2-3 minutes of their time as opposed to 10-15 minutes.

## Ask the same concise questions

Try to keep to as few questions as possible and keep them as short as possible. Is there a purpose of each question you’re asking? Are your questions worded in a leading way? (I hope not.)

If necessary, write your questions down and give them to the participants as a short questionnaire. It’s easier for them to answer and for you to keep track of their answers.

Further Reading

Author: Cynthia

Technologist, Librarian, Metadata and Technical Services expert, Educator, Mentor, Web Developer, UXer, Accessibility Advocate, Documentarian

Leave a Comment

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: