Evaluation findings prompt a reassessment of our assumptions

This is a somewhat belated post on the usability evaluation of our UI mock-ups which we conducted in mid-September. The evaluation was intended to:

  • Appraise the proposed form designs for tablets and smartphones for (i) layout and readability and (ii) flow;
  • Appraise the proposed functionality in terms of its usefulness: are the actions to be supported ones that users would want to perform on a mobile device?

Using iMockups, a low-cost prototyping tool for the iPad, we created mockups of all the forms for two form factors: the iPhone (representing smartphones) and iPad (representing tablets). We then walked through the forms with five individuals, who among them represented expertise in the following areas:

  • Use of myExperiment or another collaborative research tool;
  • Experience in using a range of apps on mobile devices;
  • Use of a website for professional purposes that has a strong social-network component (e.g. LinkedIn);
  • Knowledge of good practice in usability in general;
  • Knowledge of good practice in accessibility.

We had prepared a list of questions relating to aspects of layout and functionality which had proved problematic to design, but also allowed the participants to give their impressions freely.

Participants’ feedback was fed directly into a redesign of the UI and a revision of the final UX requirements document which we passed to the development team. However,  the evaluation caused us to reappraise the rationale underlying some of our original design decisions, which we note here:

Nature of the activities carried out on each form factor:
The UX design requirements envisaged variations in the likely scenarios of use on desktops, tablets and smartphones, as follows:

‘A researcher who uses myExperiment from a desktop computer, a tablet and a mobile device is likely to perform different tasks in each environment. The desktop might be most commonly used for executing workflows and analysing results, a tablet might be commonly used in meetings to search for and present available resources, and to make minor modifications to existing materials, while a mobile phone might largely be restricted to social activities such as monitoring the activity streams of friends and groups.’

Feedback from the evaluation suggests that this is not necessarily the case: people use smartphones for more demanding tasks than one might expect, and so the differences between form factors specified in the first version of the UX Design Requirements document have been considerably ironed out.

‘Real estate’ on screens:
The simple inability to display very much on a smartphone led us to omit certain items from the smartphone UI, including the option to display a full-size image of a workflow. However, feedback from the evaluation suggests that people are willing (even happy) to scroll around sizeable graphics on their smartphones. We have therefore made smartphones display the same data as tablets, but have included the file size of the larger images so that users can decide whether or not to view them.

Technological limitations:
Issues associated with the robustness and speed of networks led us to reduce the functionality available on smartphones. However, feedback from the evaluation suggests that this less of an issue than the usability literature led us to expect: smartphones are often used with wireless networks, and people are willing to wait a reasonable time to access or download something which they know they want and which will be useful to them.