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For this report, I will be evaluating & assessing the overall usability of the ATA Electrical & Alarms website. (http://www.ataelectrical.co.uk)
The website's main objective is to advertise the services of ATA Electrical, including PAT testing of equipment, fitting of fire & smoke alarms and other general electrical installations. The website aims to give the user a background into the company & proprietor, what type of work ATA electrical carries out, give previous customer testimonials and also contact details for the company.
Questionnaire results showed that the typical user profile of the website would be adults above the age of 18, who either own or rent a house or flat. This target demographic may require an electrician for domestic and or commercial electrical services. Other key users could be professional tradesmen who may require a qualified electrician to sub-contract. Jobs such as re-wiring a house or installation of specialist electrical equipment may be typical examples.
In order to effectively evaluate a website, feedback from users who would potentially use the website is extremely valuable. As Wakeman (2002) states, "consultants, marketing and web development people have their own biased views of what users want or need, but only users can really tell you whether your site meets their requirements - there will always be some aspects that real users find problematic".
During my user testing phase, I created a questionnaire (See Appendix, Fig.1) made up of sixteen questions which focused on the aesthetics, feel, specific tasks and specific user feedback relating to the website. I feel that this method of user testing was rather successful, as I got a good variety of answers and opinions from a base of 7 typical users.
Usability and Accessibility
When designing and planning, the usability of a website should be a key aspect. The title of Steve Krug's (2005) book "Don't Make Me Think" is a no nonsense way of stating how easy usability should be for the end user. They should not have to think about how to use a website, it should be instinctive. As Krug (2005 chapt.2) states regarding end users, "What they actually do most of the time (if we're lucky) is glance at each new page, scan some of the text, and click on the first link that catches their interest or vaguely resembles the thing they're looking for. There are usually large parts of the page that they don't even look at." This shows that the structure and layout of any website is extremely critical. Neilson (2003) also states that "usability is defined by five quality components: learnability, efficiency, memorability, errors and satisfaction".
Test users thought that the overall structure of the ATA electrical website was extremely poor. All of the content is displayed on a single tier structure which makes the information hard to read. Structuring the website this way also causes problems if a user wanted to access a specific piece of information quickly. I gave the test users a task to find contact information for the company which was graded on a scale rating of 1 to 5, (where 1 is easy and 5 is difficult). The average difficulty rating I received was around 3. Finding this information should be one of the easiest tasks a user can perform on any website. Due to the website being rather difficult to use and not being time efficient, this may result in users leaving and searching for electrical services from elsewhere.
Some test users thought that the content of the ATA electrical website should be split down into relevant sections and pages which could include; 'About Us', 'Contact Information', 'Customer Testimonials' and 'Services Offered'. This would be a more friendly 2 / 3 tier structure approach to the website.
As the structure and layout of the website is extremely poor, there is virtually no obvious navigation that you would expect in the form of buttons or tabs. This lack of navigation was highlighted by my test users. The only elements that could potentially pass as a basic navigation would be hyperlinks that are linked within the many paragraphs of text. These links direct your browser to a specific area on the page where the required information is. There is also a link at the bottom of the page that returns the user's browser to the top of the page.
As the website is very basic in layout and structure, there are very little affordances associated with it. The only form of interaction the user has with the website is clicking on the links which takes them to various areas of the page. There are no forms that can be filled in or buttons / features that can be interacted with. All the usual browser affordances are still present, such as scrolling bars, which indicate to the user that there is more information to view off the area of the screen.
There are a few constraints that could affect the website including the screen resolution of a user's pc. If the website cannot be displayed on a certain screen resolution, this would affect the users' ability to use the website. The range of colours used could also prove to be a problem, as some screens may not be able to support a full spectrum of colours. This would make the website display differently on different monitors.
Websites have a wide range of users; most importantly websites need to be made accessible for users with disabilities. Over 14% of the UK population is registered disabled. There are many different types of technology that can help with people who have a disability, such as the use of a screen reader or a refreshable Braille display for people with full visual impairment. Users who have partial visual impairment would need to be able to zoom and enlarge the content on a website for easy reading.
The current website has not been produced with disabled users in mind. There are no
Due to the vast amount of monitors available and the higher screen resolutions that users have to choose from, the website needs to be able to look presentable in all different configurations of browsers and monitors. I managed to test the website over 5 different monitors which were using different screen resolutions & also using different browsers. Surprisingly, the website managed to retain its look and was somewhat presentable in all browsers and monitors. This shows that users should not have a problem accessing the website no matter what their software & hardware configuration is.
Content & Presentation
The comments from my test users revealed that the layout and presentation of the ATA Electrical website was very poor. The websites' visual elements have little or no relevance to the accompanying textual content and test users stated that the images are not very appealing. They have included, what appear to be, stock images of associated electrical items, probably sourced from a Google image search (See Appendix, Fig.3). These include items such as light switches, plug sockets, PAT testing equipment and random wires.
ATA have also tried to include their company logo on the website, which I believe is a positive way to display their business brand, (See Appendix, Fig.4) but I feel that the logo has been overused, with a total of 9 logos being present on the same webpage. The end users did think that the company was well branded, but could maybe do with a re-vamped logo.
The map of the UK seems to be superfluous. (See Appendix, Fig.5). Text describing that their operating area is in and around Sheffield would have sufficed in this case. The graphic they have provided looks very unprofessional and is not really needed.
Test users stated that the written textual content of the website also has problems associated with it. The sheer amount of text used on the website is off-putting. The size of font and colours are not consistent throughout the page. (See Appendix, Fig.6 & Fig.7) Another notable error is the first bullet pointed list uses radio buttons that you would normally see on a web form (See Appendix, Fig.8). This reflects bad design work. The next set of bullet points has not used radio buttons, but a graphic that seems to resemble a bullet point (See Appendix, Fig.9). The lack of continuity on the ATA website is a major design flaw.
From the feedback of the user questionnaire, there would not be many elements of the original layout and design that I would keep and follow through to the re-design. The elements that I may consider keeping are:
- Company Logo - This has been carried through to other areas of the business & is the known brand image of the company.
- Some of the textual content - Possibly re-wording the text on the original website to give clarity. The sections regarding 'about us and the work that can be carried out' would probably be taken forward to the re-design as these are specific to the company.
Due to the lack of technical skill, poor design work on the original website and also feedback from my test users regarding improvements to the site, I will be re-designing most of the elements of the website. Below is a list of the main points of re-design:
- A suitable corporate colour scheme that will link throughout the website
- Sectionalising all the information up into relevant pages
- Reviewing & rewriting the majority of textual content
- Updating the majority of images with cleaner & more professional displayed graphics
- Giving the whole website a more professional look and feel. - This would potentially help attract customers; if they are impressed with the professional display of the website, they would be more likely to use the services of ATA Electrical. In my opinion, I would not use the services of ATA Electrical based on their current website.
- Krug, Steve. (2003), 'Don't Make Me Think!: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability'. New Riders
- Neilson, J. 2003. Usability 101: Introduction to Usability. [Online] Accessed: 11th March 2010 http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20030825.html
- Wakeman, L. 2000. Why You Need To Test Your Web Site With Real Users. [Online] Accessed: 11th March 2010 http://www.webreference.com/authoring/design/usability/testing/