Web Conventions and Content Inventories

Posted by on Apr 15, 2013 in Blog, Interface Design

[Submitted by Laurentia Romaniuk]

Hi everyone! This is my first INKE post – and hopefully, it will be my first of many.  I’m really interested in user experience (UX), and so my role within the University of Alberta contingent of INKE is to assist in assessing the usability of whatever projects our team is working on.

For this first column, I’m going to talk about web conventions and content inventories.

I’m in the process of drafting an initial critique of a digital library website which offers a vast array of classical corpora online (among other things). My goal, ultimately, is to provide a detailed analysis to the INKE team so that we can move forward in making this website readable across platforms (tablets, smart phones, etc.). At the moment I am going through the website and checking over conventions and creating a content inventory of these conventions to assess the usability of the site.

So, what are conventions? Conventions are things that most of us probably take for granted, they are basic functions which are common across websites and require little explaining to understand, and they help users make sense of website (Krug, 2006). An example of a convention would be the “home” button on a website. Typically, this button (generally the organization’s logo) is found in the top-left corner of every page of a site, and clicking on this button will return the user to the home page of the site. In many instances, a motto describing the aboutness of the site is found directly under or is incorporated into this button. Most users who are familiar with how websites work, know how to use a home button without explanation. When this button disappears or changes from page to page of a site, users lose part of their ability to navigate the site. On that note, navigation bars are another convention. They assist users in understanding the depth and scope of a site, and they help users know where they are within a site. Every page of a website should have navigation, and the navigation should communicate to the user where they are within the site. This may not sound terribly exciting, and this may be a bit obvious, but these are conventions that we (users) rely on and though they may be easy to take them for granted they are quite important.  If users of a site are having a difficult time making sense of a site or are getting lost within it, it could very well be due to conventions not working as they should. In that case, a really simple way to track conventions is through the use of a content inventory.

What is a content inventory? Content inventories are more or less exactly what they sound like – they are an inventory of a site’s content.  They can be used to track the usability of each page of a site, how features appear from page to page of a site, and they can help in understanding the size of a website and its layout. For my current project with INKE, I have created a content inventory that looks at the following things: a) is the home icon present b) does the navigation tell me where I am within the site c) are headers and sub-headers used d) is this useful for academics, non-academics, children, and/or the organization hosting the site, e) is this web-written. I am going through each page of a site, and I am asking myself each of these questions along the way. Some of them help me establish whether or not conventions are being used, while others help me know who would use this page of the site and whether or not its content is well presented.  I enter this data into an excel spreadsheet. In some cases, these questions are answered in a Y/N format, and in others, a scale is used. As I have been progressing through my inventory, patterns have started to emerge – certain parts of the site are not following conventions, or certain parts are best for academics while others are best for kids.  The great thing about this is that the data that comes from this is more objective than it is subjective. I have a tendency to inject my own personal opinions about the usability of things into my critiques, but a content inventory keeps me honest.  It may sound like dull work, and admittedly it can be, but it can also lead to really interesting insights related to what is going on with a site.

I have included a small sample content inventory for you here so that you can get a better idea of what I am describing. The data is loosely based on a content inventory that I did for a project a few months ago that was unrelated to work with INKE. I should note that pages are numbered with “0” being the home page, “1” being the first tab in the navigation, and so on and so forth.  In this example, you can see that as users got deeper into the site, conventions stopped being used. Overall, though, this site is pretty usable.

INKE_Romaniuk_CIEx

Hopefully this concept can be of use to others in working on their projects. I imagine it can be adapted to fit various usability assessments.

Thanks for reading!

References

Krug, S. (2006). Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability

(2nd ed.). Indianapolis, IN: New Riders Press.

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