Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Usability Research: Key Findings 2005

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The R&D team at HFI, also this year has gone out to summarize and report the key usability findings, news and research data that is then presented at their 2005's Putting Research into Practice seminar.

Photo credit: target="_blank" href="">Bo Hansen

To put together this usability seminar the HFI R&D team surveys and studies a multitude of peer-reviewed papers and conference presentations from all those research and study sectors that provide strategically important information and news to human factors and usability specialists.

These research and study sectors include:
* Human Computer Interaction
* Ergonomics
* Cognitive Science
* Social Psychology
* Computer Science
* Marketing
* Economics

As in the past, such recap presents research findings and not guidelines.

I have taken permission to select and sort for you some of these extremely interesting information bits from Dr Eric Schaffer and list them here for you as key references you should be keeping in mind when approaching the next phase of design, upgrade or optimization of your online web properties.


Usability Research annual year-end summary.

Originally written by the Pragmatic Ergonomist, Dr. Eric Schaffer.

On sites with clear labels and prominent navigation options, users tend to browse rather than search. Searching is no faster than browsing in this context. (Katz and Byrne 2003)

Users pay attention to what they are paying attention to. Sometimes things that are quite obvious to the designer are invisible to the viewer/ users. (Simons and Chabris, 1999)

Color, shared background and co-location are stronger grouping cues than outlines. (Beck and Palmer, 2002)

Layout on a Web page (white space and advanced layout of headers, indentation, and figures) may not measurably influence performance, but it does influence satisfaction. (Chaperro, Shaikh, and Baker, 2005)

Design is a key determinant to building on-line trust with consumers.
For motivated users of an information site, bad design (busy layout, small print, too much text) hurts more than good design helps. (Sillence, Briggs, Fishwick, and Harris, 2004)

Experts and novices evaluate the trustworthiness of sites differently.
Experts tend to rely more on reputation of the authors, and the business goal of the organization presenting the site. Novices evaluate based on look and feel. (Stanford, Tauber, Fogg, and Marable, 2002)

Well written copy has significant implications for user satisfaction and effective message distribution. (Morkes and Nielsen, 1998)

Users tend not to recall more than one or two highlighted items.
White space around the highlighted items tends to increase their prominence (Olsen, 2002)

Use of whitespace between paragraphs and in the left and right margins increased comprehension by almost 20%. (Lin, 2004)

Basic readability formulas (e.g., Fogg and Fry) are a good first start to understanding reading difficulties of text. However, they ignore many language and discourse components that likely influence comprehension difficulty. More sophisticated measures that take into account the cohesiveness of text need to be developed and used. (Graesser, McNamara, Louwerse, and Cai, 2004)

Designers can help users make better (more rational) decisions by presenting comparison tools. When the presentation/layout of a site offers too many choices, not the right information and no comparison mechanism, consumer decisions are not as good. (Browne and Pitts, 2004; Jedetski, Adelman, and Yeo, 2002)

Users prefer and recall products better when there is a picture of the product paired with text. Presenting products in a list with pictures in one column, text description in a second column was preferred. (Hong, Thong, and Tam, 2004)

Users spend almost 40% of their computer facing trying to get things to work or work better. They are challenged by difficult installations, viruses, connectivity troubleshooting. The systems that slow them down the most are operating systems, email, and Web browsing problems.
(Ceaparu, Lazar, Bessiere, and Shneiderman, 2004)

On newspaper sites, pictures attract attention first, but users look most at the headline news, particularly if it has a blurb describing it. Users know where advertisements are and have learned to avoid them.
(EyeTrackIII, September, 2004)

Tolerable wait time is about 2 seconds. Users will wait somewhat longer if there is feedback that something is happening. (Nah, 2004)

People who are taught about breadcrumbs tend to use them more often.
However, users still do not use them spontaneously. (Hull, 2004)

Sympathetic error messages and emoticons (like those in IM programs) can influence users' perceptions of the application. (Tzeng, 2004)

Though animated banners draw users' eyes, users do not remember the content of the animated elements better than static ones. (Bayles, 2002)

It's important to consider the users when you have a choice of icons, links or both. Initial performance is best with the link alone.
Frequent users can use either equally effectively. Icons are not faster, relative to text links alone. (Wiedenbeck, 1999)

For left-to-right languages, users tend to look left for the navigation plane. (Oulasvirta, Karrkainen, and Laarni, 2004)

Users perceive the following personalization features to be valuable:
1. the ability to log in
2. the ability to receive personalized support for the products they own, and
3. the ability to list user's previous purchases and recommendations for accessories. (Karat, Brodie, Karat, Vergo, and Alpert, 2003)

Want more key research findings?

Here is the whole list.

Detailed references for the above research items listed on this page can be accessed at:

The authors:
The Pragmatic Ergonomist, Dr. Eric Schaffer


Kath Straub, Ph.D., CUA, Chief Scientist, Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D., CUA, Chief of Technical Staff, and John Whalen, Ph.D., CUA, Project Director

See also Eric's 2006 New Year's resolutions for the usability profession.

Final recommendation from Dr. Eric Schaffer:
If you only read one paper about usability this year, read this one:
Molich, R., Ede, M. R., Kaasgaard, K., and Karyukin, B. (2004).
"Comparative usability evaluation." Behavior and Information Technology.

Dr Eric Schaffer -
Reference: HFI [ Read more ]
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posted by Robin Good on Saturday, December 24 2005, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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