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An international peer-reviewed journal

When Left Might Not Be Right

Xristine Faulkner and Clive Hayton

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 6, Issue 4, August 2011, pp. 245 - 256

Article Contents


A Web site was built purporting to sell Christmas trees, pots, and decorations. This Christmas theme was decided upon because the experiment was carried out in December, and it was thought that this would be appealing and relevant to most participants. A version of the site was produced with the menus on the right-hand side, and once that had been developed and checked, a second version was produced with the menus flipped to the left. In every other way the sites were identical, having effectively been cloned. Figure 1 shows the Christmas Shop homepage. This is the left justified menu version.

Each participant saw only one version of the Christmas tree site and was unaware of the existence of the alternative menu system. Each participant was asked to choose a Christmas tree, a pot, and a decoration. Once this was done, s/he checked the shopping basket, proceeded to checkout, payment, and then delivery. Clicking on the “confirm payment” button directed each participant to a short 10 question questionnaire that was conducted online via Poll Daddy. The questionnaire consisted of multi-choice questions and ratings that were answered via tick boxes. It was fast and simple to complete.

In addition to the questionnaire, the participant’s actions were timed and logged by the Web site. This timing began when the participant launched the home page and stopped when they clicked on the “confirm payment” button that took them to the online questionnaire. The participants were not told that their actions were being timed and logged. They were told that the evaluation would not take long, and that they could leave whenever they wanted or take as long as they wished.

Figure 1

Figure 1. The Christmas Shop homepage (left-hand menu version)

The experiment was carried out on students and staff at a London based university. All participants were volunteers who were told that the site was newly constructed by the HCI group and was now being evaluated from a usability perspective. Participants were told they could be as critical as they liked, and observers were able to help and answer any questions. The volunteer participants received no payment for taking part in the experiment, but were offered a chocolate at the end and thanked for taking part. They did not know there was a very small reward when they agreed to take part.

The experiment was conducted by final year students on an HCI unit as part of a Computing degree course (BSc). They designed and built the Web sites and developed the experimental tools.


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