Researching Usability

Posts Tagged ‘COI


You might notice that I’ve put a link to my Mendeley profile in the right-hand column of the blog recently. I finally got round to taking a closer look at it after hearing good things about it back in September. I’ve created a public folder for the ux2 project which I want to use to keep track of papers relevant to the project. For those who do not know what I’m talking about Mendeley is a network which allows researchers to create a bibliographic database (there is also a video presentation on YouTube). So far it seems to be a good way of organising papers because they are tagged and categorised for you. Recommendations aren’t available yet but I can see it being very useful and a good way to find new material.

I did run into a couple usability issues when trying to find other members and build my network. Firstly, if you want to check your email for contacts it is not possible to do so with your University email address (which is likely to be a common problem for academics). Currently you can only search Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL and GMX. Secondly, the search system within ‘Find People’ was not as intuitive to use as I was hoping. Turns out the search form  searches your contacts by default. I did not realise this at first for a couple reasons:

  1. The search is very responsive and immediately starts searching your contacts as you type letters by highlighting where the letters appear in all of your contacts. Responsiveness is not necessarily a bad thing but I wrongly assumed that this meant it was only searching my contacts and started to think that I had to go elsewhere to search the whole system.
  2. Secondly, I did not read the message which appeared once I submitted my search and as a result, drew the wrong conclusions again (see image). I did what users often do and that is to scan the words quickly. The first part I read was ‘None of your contacts match this search term’ which only helped to reinforce my conclusion that this search form only searched my existing contacts. I therefore did not bother to continue reading the second line which said ‘Click Search to include all Mendeley users in the results’. The word ‘Search’ was linked making it a different colour and as a result it stood out from the rest of the text. Again I only read ‘Click Search’ and quickly dismissed it because I felt that I had already completed this action when I selected Search this first time. I spent quite a while looking around the rest of the site to find out how to search all members and eventually came to the conclusion that it wasn’t possible yet. To the credit of Mendeley, I tweeted my difficulties on Twitter and got a quick response. This showed how proactive they are at fixing problems. It wasn’t until I asked a colleague for help that I finally realised that the message asks users to click Search a second time to search all members. I think that it would be more intuitive for users if it did this by default. In addition it should give users the ability to choose whether they want to search all users or just their contacts, otherwise it is likely to be confusing. If something requires instructions to be used correctly it often means that it is not intuitive!

Anyway, I still believe that Mendeley has the potential to be a useful tool for researchers and I will continue to use it. Please feel free to connect with me if you also have an account.

COI Usability Toolkit

This week COI announced that they had developed a usability toolkit aimed at public sector websites (although anyone can access it). The toolkit provides good-practice guides on a variety of topics including search form design and search results design. After briefly looking at some of the guides they are effective in communicating the main points in a clear and concise manner with annotated illustrations to help time-poor users get a good understanding very quickly. There is also a section where you can test your knowledge and this helps to reinforce user’s learning. It is predominantly aimed at those with limited or no  previous knowledge of usability and avoids using any techy words or code.

To use the toolkit visit


Infomaki is an open-source, lightweight usability testing tool developed by The New York Public Library’s Digital Experience Group which I came across this week. It is based on the ideas of fivesecondtest, a tool which I have come across in the past. Based on the same premise, it asks users to answer one question. The questions can either be multiple choice or a design question asking users to state where they would click on a page to complete a specified task. You can also make comparisons between two designs and test the user’s recall of features. The beauty of the concept is that it does not require a lot of the users time. Answering one question can take only a few seconds and this has been shown to be attractive to users as the response to the survey was very high. So much so that the developers found that 90% of users wanted to answer more than one question – behaviour which is difficult to elicit through traditional market research methods.

Evidence suggests that tools like this are extremely successful in gathering a large volume of quantitative data which can help to back up one-to-one usability test data. The developers also plan to incorporate features that collect demographic data. This will add even more value to the tool as it will help in the construction of user persona’s.

Tools such as Infomaki are particularly useful to those working in digital libraries without a dedicated user research team. Open source means it is free and it can be set up by anyone interested in gathering data about their digital library.

There is more information on the software available in addition to the article on Code4Lib by Michael Lascarides which can be found here:

Usability Week, Berlin

My UX2 colleague, Boon returned for Nielsen Norman Group Usability Week in Berlin with lots of knowledge to share. One of the many things that came out of his time there was the idea of user persona creation for digital libraries. After a couple leads we were pointed to the work by Max Planck Digital Library and the persona’s they created. If anyone else knows of other work that has been conducted in persona creation for digital libraries please let us know, thanks. bookmarks

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