Usability Engineering

by Joel Ewing

I work as a UX designer and developer on the ARTECA project from the ArtSciLab.  Every day, I get to think about how to improve the ARTECA interface for our users.  One of the primary ways our team collects feedback from our users is through usability tests, which are run by fellow UX designer Shruthy Sreepathy and myself.  Every month, we bring in someone who has never seen ARTECA before and ask them to navigate through the site, following a set of assigned tasks.  Every time we run this process we discover new potential for improvements.

Recently, I decided to add something new to our usual procedure of testing.  To achieve a better understanding of how our navigation bar elements should be placed, I designed an activity with the purpose of understanding which layout for the navigation bar makes the most sense.

I created a printout on an 11 x 17 inch piece of paper with the basic skeleton of the page (top navigation bar, main navigation bar, main content), but with none of the navigation elements.  For these elements, Shruthy wrote out the names of the links and other navigation items on small, button shaped sticky notes.

After the main portion of the usability test, we closed the browser window and presented our subject with the 11 x 17 printout and the stickies in no order.  With no instructions or other reference, we asked the subject to place the stickies to assemble navigation on the web page that made the most sense to him.  During this process, the subject narrated his thoughts and explained his placement of the different navigation elements.

After running this activity two times, we noticed several patterns that emerged.  Both users expected to see the “Login” and “Register” buttons on the right side of the navigation, which is different than the current navigation which places these buttons on the left side.  Also, both users did not understand the difference between the “Join” functionality and “Register”.  These insights will inform our future designs for the navigation bar.

This activity is one example of a co-creation activity, where the designers work with users to craft designs.  Co-creation activities are a great way to explore how a user thinks, and they are also a lot of fun for us and the user.  Our results are just one data point but we hope to expand this activity and other co-creation activities to gain a richer body of insights for improving our site.  Sound interesting? Sign up here to be part of a future usability test.

About the author

Joel Ewing is a freshman at The University of Texas at Dallas studying Emerging Media and Communication. He’s been involved in the ArtSciLab since Summer 2016, when he participated in the Clark Scholars program after graduating high school.