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Usability Analysis

22nd April 2010
Categories: usability

Usability analysis is carried out in order to discover how real web users perceive and use a website.

It is undertaken with subjects who do not have any knowledge of the website in question. Subjects are given a series of tasks, and the observer records their opinions and behaviour while browsing the website. Once the test has been carried out, we present a full report with recommendations.

Benefits of Usability Analysis

Usability analysis takes the expert out of the web design process and identifies how real people use the site. Once usability analysis has taken place and recommendations have been put into practice, the percentage difference in user activity can be huge. Among the improvements this process can bring are:

Helping users find the product catalogue without being tempted to look at other websites.

Preventing users from dropping out of the website through frustration.

Helping users understand and trust the purchasing process.

Getting users to stay in touch with the site (e.g. via an email newsletter).

Helping existing customers to find answers to questions.

A UK shoe shop asked for our help with usability, and changes made as a result of the analysis helped to double the number of users going through the 'checkout'.

Getting Ideas (Technical)

14th April 2010

Good designers need to continually search out places which will encourage the percolation of new ideas.

Do you ever look at a brief and think 'i don't know what to do'?

If you find yourself churning out one design after another with no other visual stimuli than your computer screen and office walls then it's time to get out there.

Of course design is everywhere. In the 21st century we are saturated by images. They whirl towards us in a storm of images as we walk down the street, stand at the bus stop, contemplate whether it's a normal latte, a skinny latte or a frothy caramel topped seasonal cappuccino day.

You don't even need to leave the house to find them as they pour through our letter boxes, shout at us from our zillions of tv channels or swoosh down our broadband connections.

The advantage of this immersion by image in our culture is that we are getting better and better at thinking visually. Practising mental visual gymnastics everyday by looking, seeing, and thinking means our responses to signs and advertisements and promotions is getting faster. So the designer can in turn develop their own ideas to create work which is more subtle, more thoughtful and more interesting as they know that there ideas will be met by an audience with a strong visual insight.

However there is also the danger of a complete visual shut down. Image fatigue.

It is a battle in this climate to create new innovative work which will stand out in all the good and the bad.

Vivienne Westwood's methods are an inspiration to me as her work is kept fresh and provocative because she feeds her mind with art - cycling around london visiting art galleries and museums finding influence from pictures in the National art library and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

As designers we can't stand still expecting our inspiration to rest solely on what passes infront of our eyes on the way to and back from work, taking whatever happens to fall into our laps.

We need to work at finding new and interesting sources for inspiration to keep our work fresh and innovative; to think about new ways of cutting through the visual clutter that surrounds us.


Linux and Windows

6th April 2010

When I started out in business on my own, my experience with websites had been very Microsoft-centric. That is to say, my programming language had been Visual Basic, moving on to C#, against a backdrop of various Windows operating systems. Linux intrigued me, but I didn't know if I would take to it.

The process of finding fast, cost-effective hosting for customers meant that we tried out Linux hosting and PHP, the standard web programming language on Linux at the time, and now perhaps THE standard web programming language.

Linux hosting meant finding out how to mess with all sorts of settings files, examine log files using the command line, etc., grimacing but all the time knowing that there's no graphical user interface (in the case of our web servers) hogging processor time.

The downside of Windows has definitely been memory hogging by Windows applications, and the occasional service pack or security downloads killing innocent bystanders (like the MySQL database) in its wake.

Using Linux, though, means not being able to use c#, a most thorough and elegant language with a very well organised library of supporting functions.

So we do Windows and Linux, and we love it.

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