Is New Always Better? Heuristic Evaluation of UAH’s Website

Many years ago when I was still in high school and considering colleges to apply to, I decided that I would apply to UAH. Before I did though, I wanted to collect all of the information that I could. I needed to know the requirements to be accepted, the cost of tuition, scholarship information, and many more things that one needs to know when considering giving one’s life away for four (or five as I’ve now found myself) years to an institution. During this process I was constantly on the UAH’s main website. I was clicking every link, downloading every file listed on a page, and reading absolutely everything. The website I was using back then proved to be very usable and useful considering I was able to apply and have been attending ever since.

UAH website homepage in August 2012

As a current undergraduate student, however, I find that I no longer visit UAH’s website. I use the other UAH sites that contain my personal information and that I need for my classes, but the information on the main website is just extraneous to me. I recently visited the website for the first time in several years and noticed that it had a complete makeover. The homepage, instead of being very plain and made up of mostly text, is now made up of picture slideshows of students and the campus. The entire user interface is completely updated and much more visually pleasing.

Current website homepage

For my assignment, I chose to test the UAH website to see if the makeover did more than just make it look better. I wanted to find out if it has become any easier or more difficult to navigate and use. To test the website, I used the heuristics method. This method involves using a list of guidelines that specify what is needed to make an interface the most user friendly. The guidelines that I used were Jakob Nielsen’s 10 heuristics. This list is widely accepted and implemented in evaluating interfaces. Along with the 10 heuristics, I developed the following list of tasks that any potential or current UAH student might perform:

  1. Locate the address of the UAH campus
  2. Locate the interactive campus map
  3. Return to the homepage without using the browser’s back button
  4. Search for “Hockey” to find news about the team
  5. As a student, find the final exam schedule for the spring 2016 semester

For my tester, I chose my younger brother to perform these tasks within the UAH website. My brother is currently the same age I was when I was a freshman at UAH, so I thought it would be interesting to see if he got along as well with the website as I did all those years ago. He began at the UAH home page and was given the task list along with Nielsen’s 10 heuristics. He performed each task and evaluated whether or not he was able to complete each one and how easily with the heuristics in mind.

The results of the test were all positive. He was able to perform each of the tasks with ease and determined that they did not obviously or seriously violate any of the heuristics. With these results I found they could mean either two things: 1) The website’s changes did not hinder the usability and have given the overall appearance and use of the website a positive upgrade. 2) My brother, being as young as he is, is simply tech savvy and could navigate any website that was put in front of him.

Overall, the heuristics do provide a good standard to look to when evaluating an interface’s usability, but at times can be a bit too broad for some people who have more experience with technology and would not find as many issues as a more novice user.