Is It Usable?

Finding the pain points in a site for a user is easier than you may think.  There are couple things that you can do to fairly quickly uncover the usability problems of your site or web app.

Gorilla Tactics

Just observing someone using your site or application can give great insight on where there may be problems.  This isn’t a formal observation in any way, but rather an “a-ha” moment.  Since we are normally not our users, we have a preconceived notion that tells us how things should be organized or written.  Just keeping an eye out for problems people have helps build evidence for a realignment of the site.

This type of “tactic” can be used even in physical environments.  Situations where people try to pull a door open as opposed to pushing is an example physical design flaw of the everyday human experience.  It’s the small things that count.

Discover Wants and Needs

Generally research is done at the beginning of a project to discover who the user of a system is.  These data points are then used to develop personas, which are generalizations of the type of people that may use the system.  Luckily, higher education has a somewhat defined user base.  It was more defined when marketing research was done for the university during 2008.  By having a good idea of who your users are, you can organize web experiences much better.  Since there is a lot of direct physical communication with our user base, “students”, I think it is easy to understand the user.

For the most part, understanding student concerns, needs, and wants helps build better experiences online.  By making these pieces of content or services intuitive and readily accessible, we start to create a more useful and usable experience.

Site Analytics

Analytics are available 0n every single page of the university’s website.  By looking at these statistics, generalizations and patterns can be seen as to where users are going on your site and what content is important to them.  It also gives a pretty good idea of what content is not important or is confusing by looking at indicators such as the bounce rate.

Putting it Together

By taking note of these three things you should have a better idea of where the pain points are in your current site.  After identifying patterns, you can easily edit, remove, or reposition content to help build a stronger, more usable experience online.

Remember your website will never be finished, there is always room for improvement.  Websites move in circular cycles. Redesigns are not the end of the process, but rather the beginning of the cycle.

Chad Hietala