So, has the USeD project been successful? Has it achieved what it set out to? These questions are always hard to answer. How do you measure success? Success can be quantitative but is often a subjective metric. To attempt to answer these questions we will have to break down success down a bit.
What did we set out to achieve?
In the broadest terms, we probably wanted:
- a more useable interface for Digimap Data Downloader
- to develop usability skills in house
- to promote the use of usability as a tool for effective service development
A more usable interface
Well I think this is a big tick for success. We believe we have managed to design an interface that fits the needs of our personas and it both easy and intuitive to use. Users who we engaged with during testing stated that the test interface was much easier to use and it was clearer what data you would get back. Our final version seemed to allow novice users to explore data products and they reported that it helped them learn about spatial data.
We released version 2 of the new download interface as a beta service in December. This might seem an odd thing to do, to release an interface midway through usability testing, but we wanted some of the functionality it added to be available to the community as soon as possible. This also allowed us to gather feedback from our users. Below is an some feedback we have received.
“Data Download Beta beats the old version hands down as far as I‘m concerned. The rapidity with which you can select a map extent and download all of the relevant mapping data in one go is by far much better than the slow and more manual way things used to work. Top notch stuff.” Lecturer – Northumbria University.
So, the interface is easier to use and helps novice users learn about spatial data and standard geospatial terminology. Making the interface “Learnable” was very important as we know that users may well be using spatial data for the first time when they download data from Digimap. Many users will return to Digimap to get more data through the course of their studies. (more? does it make sense?)
Develop usability skills
EDINA doesn’t have a dedicated usability expert. We engaged with an external usability expert to work with us in the project. One aim was that the usability expert would mentor the project team so that they could do usability studies by themselves in the future. This worked well and the usability expert increasingly became an observer, giving feedback and advising on best practice. It is the aim of geo-services to maintain a link to the usability expert so that we can consult him on usability issues that we do not feel confident dealing with ourselves. In fact, this has already happened. We have discussed how best to conduct usability on mobile apps that we are looking to develop.
Embed Usability in development at EDINA
Although not explicitly mentioned in the project plan, USeD hoped to embed usability as a core part of development work at EDINA. It is not that EDINA doesn’t recognise usability as an important element of the design process, rather that time and resources are always tight and it is just “another thing” that needs done. The USeD project has demonstrated that you can integrate usability to steer the development of a project and this can save time and money. Knowing who you are developing for and what they want is vital if you want your end product to be useful. The personas highlighted that we knew our users pretty well, however we also found that some of our users were making life more difficult for themselves by not using the best service for the task they wanted to complete. This is perhaps a failing of us, the service provider.
The USeD project has allowed us to look at how users interact with our interface and revealed some interedting issues. I don’t think there were any huge problems with our initial interface, but small problems distracted and annoyed the user preventing them getting the data they wanted. Being able to demonstrate this to developers, perhaps by having the developer watch the user testing, has resulted in a better appreciation of what the user needs or wants from the interface.
The USeD project has demonstrated that usability need not be time consuming and costly. In addition, usability should compliment the work of the graphic designer, making sure their strong visual branding is retained.
The fact that geo-services at EDINA is implementing usability on a new project shows that the USeD project has achieved the first step of embedding usability in product development.
- we have a new interface that users think is much better than the old one,
- we have developed in-house usability skills and have fostered a good relationship with a usability consultant that we can call on when needed
- we have started to use the skills we have gained on other projects within geo-services at EDINA.
That sounds like a success. What we will do over the coming months is to monitor the use of the old interface versus the new interface. Hopefully users will migrate to the new interface. In addition, we will monitor feedback from users, particularly when the old interface is removed from the service.