Researching Usability

Posts Tagged ‘projectPlan

Last week during our regular project meetings we decided on a roadmap for the user research aspect for the last few months of the project (is it that time already?!). In the spirit of transparency I decided to publish my plan here. I’ll of course be blogging along the way, reporting findings and evaluating the work as I go. If you can point me to any existing research that I should include in my investigation, please feel free to leave a comment with a link at the end and thanks in advance!


This research will examine the current use of Web 2.0 developments in digital libraries, their use scenarios and applications. The scope of the remaining research will be centred on services which diffuse the digital library through mobile technology. The aim of this mobile research is to identify areas that may be relevant to The University of Edinburgh (UoE) and evaluate a prototype mobile library service.

Project Aim

To enhance the user experience of digital libraries through technological developments centred on usability inspection and evaluation.

Project Objectives

  1. To undertake usability inspection and contemporary UX techniques research
  2. To enhance digital libraries with state-of-the-art technologies
  3. To evaluate user experience in specific contexts involving real user communities

Mobile Research Aims:

1. Review current mobile digital library landscape, how services are diffused using mobile platforms and what UoE can learn (Obj3)

Formative evaluation informed by existing mobile digital library services and usability studies of mobile library services will be undertaken. This will help to provide a clear picture of the mobile digital library landscape which will inform the project’s own development work. Existing mobile usability research[i] will also provide insights into existing user centred design processes which can be adapted for this project.

Output: Blog series reviewing the trends in mobile digital library services, highlighting successful services and identifying what UoE can learn from other projects. In addition, a list of existing mobile digital library resources will be created as a resource for others.

2. Review good UX practices for mobile applications & websites as well as usability evaluation techniques (Obj1)

As mobile usability is a relatively new subject to the project, research will be conducted on usability practices for mobile design and development.  In addition, mobile evaluation methodologies will be identified and incorporated into the prototype evaluation (Obj2).

Output: Blog post which highlights good mobile UX resources and describes the evaluation technique which will be applied to the project.

3. Investigate what users want from a mobile library service (Obj3)

Continuing on from the Mobile Services survey conducted by Information Services (IS) in March 2010[ii], a subsequent survey will be conducted with UoE students which will focus on mobile library services. The findings will provide insight into the types of services users would find useful and this will hopefully influence the direction of development. The research will also help to support the ongoing mobile services development by IS as it will provide additional data which can be benchmarked against their previous survey.

The quantitative data gathered from the survey will be supplemented with a focus group with those likely to be using the service (end users) and those helping to provide the service (staff, developers, librarians). The findings will not only help to qualify the findings from the survey but also provide a broad perspective of how a digital library service should be shaped by including all stakeholders.

Output: Survey report detailing findings and outcomes from first focus group with stakeholders.

4. Evaluate the usability of the prototype mobile library service (Obj1)

The usability of the higher fidelity prototype will be evaluated with representative users. These one-on-one sessions will take place with a small number of users (6-12) and will be conducted using a simulator, a smart phone or the user’s own mobile handset. Qualitative date will be captured and reported. The objective of this usability study is to ensure the success of the prototype and provide a use case for digital library services at the University of Edinburgh and beyond.

Output: Summary of findings from focus group and detailed usability test report.


The project is organised in the following work packages (WPs):

WP1 Management & Coordination Deliverables:


D1.1 Start Up PM (Project Month) 1: project setup, providing Project Plan (all activities), project website/blogs.

D1.2 Completion PM5: synthesising a summative case study based on the project findings, JISC reporting.

WP2 User Research, Usefulness (Objective 1 and 2):


D2.1 User Research PM1 & 2: undertake contextual inquiry, persona development, field study.

D2.2 Reporting PM3

WP3 Usability Testing (Objective 3):


D3.1 Setup PM3: recruit users and setup test.

D3.2 Testing PM4.

D3.3 Reporting PM4.

See the timetable below for more information.


Project Methodologies Used:

WP2 User Research , Usefulness

Contextual Enquiry

A key methodology used in the project is the user research which involves a field study undertaking contextual inquiry (Cooper, Reimann & Cronin 2007), a form of user centred design. It is related to ethnographic study of users in their natural habitats, involving real-use scenarios.

The method provides broader understandings of how systems fit into working environments and find out the common users behaviours and patterns of use. It also complements other qualitative methods which are also being employed in the project including surveys and interviews.

Details of the approach and methods used in the user research are detailed and updated regularly on the project wiki.

Qualitative Personas with Quantitative Validation (Mulder &Yaar, 2007)

Personas are a realistic character sketch representing one segment of an audience. Each persona is an archetype serving as a surrogate for an entire group of real people. The help to bring research to life while also informing the recruitment of participants for the usability testing in WP3.

Qualitative research will be conducted for the project through interviews initially and users segmented based on the findings. Quantitative research will then be conducted (time permitting) to validate the segments. This is normally done through a survey which is intended to be conducted online. A persona will then be created from each segment.

WP3 Usability Testing

Usability testing is a technique used to evaluate a product by testing it with representative users. In the test, these users will try to complete typical tasks while observers watch, listen and takes notes. The goal is to identify any usability problems, collect quantitative data  on participants’ performance (e.g., time on task, error rates), and determine participant’s satisfaction with the product.

Usability testing of Edinburgh University’s AquaBrowser will be conducted with representative users and will focus on the efficacy of the resource discovery user interfaces including the faceted navigation and Discover animated cloud.


Cooper, A., Reimann, R & Cronin, D (2007). About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design, Wiley Publishing Inc.

Mulder, S., Yaar, Z., (2007). The User Is Always Right, A Practical Guide to Creating and Using Personas for the Web, New Riders

Project Team

Boon Low, the Project Manager for both UX2 and AquaBrowserUX and developer for UX2 will be involved in all activities of the project, particularly user research, contextual inquiry and usefulness evaluation. Boon has a PhD in Computer Extraction of Human Faces. He is the developer and lead for the existing digital library initiatives at NeSC. He worked on several JISC library integration projects (DEVIL, d+).

Lorraine Paterson, the Usability Analyst for UX2 Project at University of Edinburgh will be involved in all activities of the project, particularly usability testing. Lorraine has worked as a consultant at User Vision, with a variety of clients including Epson, Acas, AIG and the NHS. She has also collaborated on other research examining online information sharing behaviours through the lens of social exchange theory.

Liza Zamboglou, a Senior Service Manager at University of Edinburgh’s Information Services division, will conduct the key user research, contextual inquiry and usefulness evaluation as a subcontractor. Some of her more recent work at the University includes User Testing sessions of the student portal, various contextual inquiries, and delivery of regular Usability Training workshops with a fellow colleague. Liza has worked as a usability consultant in the past for The Scottish Government and The Northern Ireland Executive for over 3yrs, coordinating and carrying out usability evaluations (100+ accompanied surfing sessions) on in-house web applications.

David Hamill, a freelance Usability Consultant will undertake the usability testing as a subcontractor. David has worked for companies such as User Vision and Usability Lab and has carried out usability studies for a range of public and private sector organisations including Royal Bank of Scotland. He writes a blog on web usability and has had several articles published on the topic, both in print and online.

Wilma Alexander is an e-Learning Services Manager within the University of Edinburgh Information Services and will be advising the team throughout the project. She is an information professional with a Masters in HCI and for the last decade has pursued a particular interest in usability of e-learning services in Higher education.

Giannis Tsakonas is librarian in the Library and Information Service at the University of Patras, Greece. He holds a PhD from the Department of Archives and Library Sciences, Ionian University. His research includes user-crentred library evaluation, information behaviour and visual communication. Giannis will also advise the team throughout the project.

End User Engagement

The project will communicate effectively with users and decision makers by systematically addressing them through the intended outcomes of the user study. It will rely on the existing engagement activities of JISC UX2.0 to disseminate key findings and developments among key audience in the JISC Community and at Edinburgh University. Findings of the project will be submitted to a conference (or journal) and disseminated through JISC programme-level events. The project team will blog regularly about work-in-progress via the existing UX2.0 blogs and Twitter feeds.

Directly Incurred/Staff April 10- July10 Aug 10 – Oct 10 TOTAL £
Total Directly Incurred Staff (A) 0 0 0
Non-Staff April 10 – July 10 Aug 10 – Oct 10 TOTAL £
Travel and expenses £800 £500 £1,300
Usability Professionals Association (UPA) International Conference 2010 Munich (May) to enhance skills of project team: Ethnography, usefulness, persona, 2 x registrations £1,400 0 £1,400
User Research Consultancy: Liza Zamboglou, 15 person-day £3,445 £530 £3,975
Usability Testing Consultancy: David Hamill, 7 person-day £1,800 £1,350 £3,150
Other: consumable, user incentives (vouchers, iPod etc) £750 £250 £1,000
Total Directly Incurred Non-Staff (B) £8,195 £2,630 £10,825
Directly Incurred Total (A+B=C) (C) £8,195 £2,630 £10,825
Directly Allocated April 10 – July 10 April 10 – July 10 TOTAL £
Directly Allocated Total (D) 0 0 0
Indirect Costs (E) 0 0 0
Total Project Cost (C+D+E) £8,195 £2,630 £10,825
Amount Requested from JISC £6,556 £2,104 £8,660
Institutional Contributions £1,639 £526 £2,165
Percentage Contributions over the life of the project JISC, 80% Partners 20% Total 100%
No. FTEs used to calculate indirect and estates charges, and staff included No FTEs Which Staff

You may remember from an earlier blog in April that the JISC Enhancing LMS: AquaBrowser UX study has kicked off. Since then a number of developments have taken place including a number of team meetings, dissemination of the project during the Scottish UPA presentation and more recently, user research in the library. Details of the work done so far will be included in subsequent blogs. If you want to find out more about the project, its aims and objectives please visit Boon’s blog.

All future updates will be provided in both blogs during the course of the project. To make it easier to track this information in one place you can follow a single feed for AquaBrowserUX by subscribing here:

The blogs will act as the source for all the required project documentation. The first part of this includes seven project plan posts. These are a series of posts detailing different aspects of the project plan. The first project plan post has already been provided by Boon in the link above. These posts are intended to disseminate details of the project that were included in the original proposal. This post deals with the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) for all AquaBrowserUX work. As the project is a case study, an Open Source Software License is not applicable. The Creative Commons License details are provided below:

Creative Commons License
AquaBrowser User Experience by AquaBrowserUX is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK: Scotland License.
Based on a work at
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at bookmarks

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