The importance of usability

Kathryn McDonell, a User Experience Consultant at and a guest blogger on Econsultancy wrote a very detailed account of her observations on Waitrose’s relaunched online shopping service. The title of the post, “Waitrose’s redesign: where did it go wrong?” is a hint on her views on the new site, which has apparently prompted a host of complaints.

She breaks down the results of a comparative usability exercise that they (I assume Karen is “they”) ran:

As a comparison, we asked users to perform the same tasks on Tesco’s online shopping site and to give their preference.

Users were asked users to select five items to put in their shopping trolley: bread, eggs, sunflower oil, a red pepper and two tuna steaks, thinking aloud as they did so.

If you’re a believer in the importance of usability, their test basically shows that people think that Waitrose’s design is cleaner and more beautiful, but that it falls down when people actually have to use the site.

The most interesting part of this post is the videos of users trying to perform some very basic online shopping tasks and thinking out loud as you watch a video of their screen showing what they are trying to do.

I’ve worked with a number of people who have never experienced this sort of research first-hand. It’s an incredibly important part of the process. I’d recommend checking out these videos (if not reading the whole post), especially if you’ve never seen it.

Any new website that’s launched will have problems. If you’re Waitrose, and you’ve been doing eCommerce for years, you expect it and you prepare a budget to optimise the experience for people as the feedback rolls in. If your budget isn’t as generous, not paying attention to usability in your process can be a very costly error.

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Creating User Journeys…

Just reading this fantastic article (link down below) on Boxes and Arrows about thinking about “User Journeys” when developin Web sites, especially at the information architecture stage.

Web people these day of the user more and more about the experience of the user. Web sites are becoming less of an online brochure and more of a completely new way to tell your story to all of the different people that need to know about you.

In my work, I often help my clients build profiles of their target audience, focusing our efforts on developing an understanding of who these people are, why they are coming to your site and how they prefer to “consume” information. These profiles are more about the users of the site as people. Once we have these profiles, we spend time behind the scenes thinking about whether or not we have the right information available to them on the site and think about how best to deliver that information based on “who they are.”

The idea of the “user journey” shifts that focus away from “who they are” and more to “what they need to do” on the site and pays attention to how matching their needs on the site to your needs as a business can help identify opportunities to really strengthen your site. (Such as eliminating unnecessary content and/or presenting existing content in ways that will be more compelling and useful).

The user journey tells more of a story of the person and their ultimate goal in visiting your site. So instead of “Bob the 25 year old investment banker who has an iPod and frequents Starbucks 3.4 times a week” it’s Bob the Banker that wants to book a plane flight to see his girlfriend… that’s his need. Through planning Bob’s journey through the site you might hypothesize that Bob already books tickets online all the time and is just shopping for a better price, or that Bob already has his airfare and is looking for a hotel deal. In which case, you can develop your information architecture and your site’s content, features and functionality to address those different types of scenarios.

A very good thing to think about if you’re looking at ways to keep people on your site. Think not about who they are, but what they need to do on your site. How that changes as they move from page to page… and then try to map the order of information in ways that help people get to a point where they are getting what they need and you’re getting what you need.

Bob needs to book a ticket to see his girlfriend.
You need to sell more tickets online to cut down on your overhead…
What does his iPod, his alma mater, or his salary range have to do with that?

Link below:
Boxes and Arrows: An introduction to user journeys

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