At our BSCB/BSDB exhibitor stand, we created a little web testing station, complete with ‘booth’ – the computer and user are hidden behind our poster board in this photo. Volunteers were asked to spend 10 minutes testing our website, and in return were entered into a prize draw for a £50 Amazon voucher – won by Dr Seyed Beati, from the University of Dundee.
Volunteers were asked to complete some short tasks on our website, which were recorded using Silverback, a usability testing tool. Silverback not only records the user’s actions on screen, highlighting where they click. It also records a small image of the user, and although it doesn’t do eye-tracking it does allow us to see if users are looking all over the screen, or frowning or looking puzzled. Silverback does all of this unobtrusively, so that users are not distracted by their own image in a video; the only indicator that they are being recorded is the camera light. The movies generated can then be reviewed to see how easy or difficult specific tasks are for users.
This is the first time we’ve done user testing with a group of people, and although it was time-consuming, the information we gathered made it worth the effort, and made us look at the website through users’ eyes. We’ve now reviewed the movies, made notes of what we observed and categorised these observations.
Many of them are small things that are relatively trivial to fix. For example, we thought our website feedback link (Usersnap) on the right of the screen would be easily spotted as nothing else is around it. But it turns out that’s not the case – it seems that because no other content is near it, no-one actually looks there! So, it will be moved to the top right of the page, where most users naturally look for help.
Some of the more challenging fixes relate to the usability of the Stack Viewer, our online tool for exploring the HREM data. We made a lot of observations about how the controls are used on this page, and the problems with the current interface. One thing that we noticed was that the buttons to change orthogonal views are separate from the thumbnail images in the sidebar that show the view switching, so we’ll be bringing these together. In fact we’ll be bringing all the controls into a single ‘control panel’, rather than some on the side and some in the view pane.
The other parts of the website that presented challenges to users were Search and the ‘line page’, which shows all of the data for a particular gene. We have new search functionality already under development, and will now add in some additional changes to make this work better for users.
The line page is one of the busiest pages on the site, and we knew before the testing that it needed some improvements. The test results show us that we need to provide more context on the page to show users what’s what, and to make the actions that can be taken more prominent and easily understood (otherwise known as affordance).
Across the site we’ll also be adding more tooltips, to provide contextual help and information next to where the user is looking, as well as breadcrumb trails to help orient users.
We wouldn’t be able to make these improvements without your input, so we’d like to say a huge thanks to everyone who gave ten minutes of their time!