Website design is a very complex issue. Site creators must be conscious of a number of separate issues, including visual appeal, ease of use, and availability of information. In addition, these items must compete with images that can take up much of the screen real estate.
How can a designer ensure that their website is user-friendly and complete? Even if a designer would like to run studies, what can be done when budgets are tight? Internet-based surveys may just be the solution.
As part of a project for the course Usability Studies, I decided to take a look at the usability of the UAH website. I’ve had concerns with the website for years and have spoken to other students who also have issues with the site. In order to zero in on one topic that would represent just how usable the website is, I focused on questions that would elucidate how easy certain pieces of information are to find.
I designed seven questions for this survey. Five were closed-ended questions, and two were open-ended questions. The closed-ended questions gauged the ease of finding specific pieces of information using a Likert scale. For example, one of the questions was as follows: “Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statement: ‘I found it easy to find information about registration on the website.’ Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, neither agree nor disagree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree?”
The open-ended questions asked what users liked and disliked about the website to get a sense of each user’s final thoughts. I used the site SurveyMonkey to perform this survey due its low cost (none in my case) and ease of use.
Interestingly, the responses to the survey were not very varied, as I was expecting them to be. For questions about finding the university’s location and registration information, the six respondents were evenly split between “Strongly agree” and “Somewhat agree.” Most of the other closed-ended questions followed similarly, with answers being positive on the whole. However, for the question “I found it easy to locate official calendars and schedules” the respondents were split, with two of the respondents answering, “Somewhat disagree” and one answering, “Strongly disagree.” This could point to at least one issue with the website. A second survey zeroing in on the specific question of calendar information might be beneficial.
Internet surveys can be an extremely useful tool for web designers. They are very low cost and efficient. Sites like SurveyMonkey make it easy for anyone to run their own surveys, with the drag-and-drop style of question design allowing series of questions to be quickly assembled. Unfortunately, there will always be an unknown in the number of responses the survey administrator will actually get and the turnaround time of responses.