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Usability Studies 101: Design by Groups

Usability Studies 101: Design by Groups Joseph Carrabis
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This is the last column in a Visitor Designed Navigation tetralogy. We started by defining Visitor Designed Navigation and implementing it with a "Next" menu item in "What Comes Next?" The second column in the series used the concepts developed in "What Comes Next?" to implement a similar -- but less visually demanding -- visitor navigation aide in "MIPs are Next." The third column, "Making Cookies," demonstrated how to implement a Visitor Specific Navigation aide.


Let's finish this series by creating a visitor designed site search tool.


Family, Friends and Fools


The phrase "Family, Friends and Fools" comes from the world of entrepreneurship and describes those people you approach first when you're starting a business and need to raise capital. "Family, Friends and Fools," therefore, are people you trust, people who will take some time to do what you ask them, will be serious in completing the task even if they laugh about it later, and will enjoy a beer and pizza when it's done and everybody gathers to discuss their experiences.


Yes, the method described here involves getting people to do something they would not normally do. I suggest getting 20 to 25 family members and friends together, because much of their trust and cognitive barriers will be down or gone simply due to their relationship to you. You can involve more family and friends and/or you can use focus groups or the like. One of my favorite methods is to ask people on my email joke list to take part. My joke list includes family, friends, people teaching on the university level, students, teenagers, grandparents, people with similar and totally dissimilar interests to mine from a variety of education, income, ethnic and cultural backgrounds.


Pick your family and friends wisely


Step two of this method involves working with people who share some other qualities besides being willing to take this task on. You need to find people with different levels of experience in two very distinct areas:


One: These people need to have different levels of knowledge about what you offer (service or product or whatever) on your website.


Two: These people need to have different levels of experience navigating websites, specifically yours and your competitors' websites.


These two factors are crucial because we're designing a site search tool for Tourists, not Locals. The kind of navigation we're creating in this example is best created by Tourists for Tourists, so be sure you front-end load your family and friends with people with minimal knowledge of your offerings. They can be experts at site navigation (although you'd rather they're not), and they must be closer to novices and intermediates when it comes to your offerings.


The task at hand


The task you'll be assigning your test group is a simple one and involves two key features:


One: They must navigate your site -- all of your site. They can take as much time (within reason) to do it as they wish, but they must navigate every page of your site.


Two: They must write a short, declarative sentence that explains the purpose of the page. For example, a page describing your offerings could be summed up as "what we do."


Now that your friends have done their part, it's time for you to do the first piece of your part.


Take all their sentences (you can't judge the sentences on merit, although you can edit their grammar and punctuation) and recast them as questions. The "what we do" declarative becomes the "what do we do?" interrogative. "What we offer" becomes "what do we offer?" et cetera.


You will find some repetition. However, by picking your test group wisely you'll have questions that range in sophistication from "where can I find out what someword means?" to "why do we use anthrolingual semiotics as a basis for behavioral modeling?"


These questions are not something you'll answer in your FAQs, although some of these questions will have been generated by your test group's statements about your FAQs page.


It is important to keep these questions conceptually distant (in the visitor's mind) from any FAQs you might have. This doesn't mean you can't use these questions to create FAQs, as I discussed in Just the FAQs.


Searching by groups


Next, you need to create a new item on your pages. This new item can be a menu item such as "Help" or an icon or graphic with a question mark ("?") on it.


Again, you must clearly differentiate this navigation aide from any FAQs icon or FAQs menu item on your site. The "Help" or "?" graphic must link to a new page.


This new page contains a list of the questions formatted so that each question is a link to the page that your test group decided answered that question. Questions asked most often go to the top of the list. The list is democratic in nature and the majority rules. (Alphabetical lists are only useful when everybody asks the same question the same way.) Making the listing hierarchical based on number of times a question is asked insures a conceptual listing. Such a listing will benefit your visitors more as most people think conceptually, not alphabetically.


And voila, the questions have become a "search" tool on your site, where each question is linked to a page that people in the test group thought was answered by said page.


Easy, quick, simple and neat.


Each time your site goes through a redesign or new pages are added, give Uncle Maude or Aunt Fred a call and ask them to take a look at the page and comment. Don't forget to also have a few other friends do it as well. The more the merrier, remember?


That covers the first piece of your part of creating the Searching by Groups tool. All that is left is the second part. That involves having everyone over for beer and pizza so you can listen to the folks in your test group gossip about your site and share their thoughts and opinions. What you'll learn will be amazing and just might make a better site designer out of you. It'll definitely increase your awareness of what to do when you design anything -- website or leave-behind -- the next time through.


And save some pizza for me.


Joseph Carrabis has been everything from butcher to truck driver to Senior Knowledge Architect to Chief Research Scientist. His 22 books and 225 articles have ranged among cultural anthropology, mathematics, information mechanics, language acquisition, neurolinguistics, psychodynamics and psychosocial modeling -- and other eclectic topics. His knowledge and data designs have been used by Caltech, Citibank, DOD, IBM, NASA, Owens-Corning and Smith-Barney among others. Carrabis is CRO and Founder of NextStage Evolution and NextStage Global, and founder of KnowledgeNH and NH Business Development Network. He is also inventor and developer of Evolution Technology. You can download sections of Carrabis' next book, "Reading Virtual Minds," at http://www.hungrypeasant.com/.

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Article written by associate media producer Brian Waters.

Joseph Carrabis is Founder and CRO of The NextStage Companies, NextStage Global and NextStage Analytics, companies that specialize in helping clients improve their marketing efforts and understand customer behavior. He's also applied neuroscience,...

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