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Science and the Usability Specialist: Recent Research Findings You Might Have Missed

Discussions and demonstrations of the newest research and how you can use these results

One challenge faced by usability practitioners is keeping up with the latest research about what makes web pages usable, efficient, effective, and appealing. This workshop focuses on the empirical evidence from human factors and usability studies done in the past ten years about how information is presented on web pages.

Half Day Tutorial by Fiona Tranquada (Bentley University), Tom Tullis (Fidelity Investments), Marisa Siegel (Fidelity Investments)
6:00pm to 9:00pm on Tuesday, June 21, 2011

About the Half Day Tutorial

Quiz Show (15 minutes) The quiz show will be a fun, interactive exercise meant to assess participant knowledge across the breadth of topics to be discussed in the workshop. Questions asked in the quiz will rely on visuals and demonstrations as much as possible.

Detailed Topics Within each topic area, we will present and discuss recent studies. Discussion of each study will include the research question, the methodology used, the main findings, and key takeaways for the practitioner. Images will be used whenever possible to illustrate the methodology and findings.
Page Layout and Home Pages (30 minutes) Research Question Study Key Takeaways How quickly do users form an opinion of a web page? (Lindgaard, Fernandes, Dudek, & Brown, 2006) • The pre-attentive processing of the mind may have a larger influence on conscious decision making than previously thought. • Long-term judgments of visual appeal and trust are affected by first impressions. • Visual cues, such as color and layout, may be as important as textual cues in influencing users. What areas of a web page draw attention? (Buscher, Cutrell, & Morris, 2009) • Users go through an orientation phase when they begin viewing a page, during which they scan the top left corner. • During page recognition, fixations are predominately in the top left area. • During information foraging, fixations are predominately in the center left areas. • Regardless of task, the right third of a web page receives little or no fixation. Does scrolling affect understanding? (Sanchez & Wilkey, 2009) • Long, complex texts should be broken into discrete sections • Breaking a text up is only useful if it is done meaningfully so that the sections make sense • Users may have a better understanding of complex texts if the sections are presented on separate pages instead of one scrolling page. Are people drawn to faces on web pages? (Tullis, Siegel, & Sun, 2009) • There are situations where people are drawn to faces (i.e., browsing), but these may be the exception rather than the rule. • Even when images of faces are appropriate, as in the context of the Expert Insights, they may have a negative impact. • More task oriented users are less likely to believe that the information they’re looking for is associated with a face.

Forms, Tables, and Navigation (30 minutes) Research Question Study Key Takeaways How to indicate required fields on a web form (Pauwels, Hubscher, Leuthold, Bargas-Avila, & Opwis, 2009) • Consider using colored backgrounds on forms to indicate required fields. • However, to accommodate color blindness, use color as a secondary indicator rather than the only indication that a field is required. How can forms be optimized using field-level validation and chunking (Tan, 2009) • Consider providing real-time validation on key form fields • Place tips to the side of the fields they relate to, instead of underneath • For longer forms that have sections “chunked” out, consider emphasizing the headers using colors or shading if it is important for users to read them Do zebra stripes help data tables (Enders, 2008) • Results suggest that best treatment is to shade alternating, individual rows of tables using a single color (e.g., grey) • Zebra striping doesn’t hurt performance, and in some cases improves performance • Zebra striping also is subjectively preferred by users • If zebra striping can not be done, lines between the rows are the best alternative Are mega-drop down menus usable? (Nielsen, 2009) • Use mega drop-downs for navigation instead of traditional dropdowns and dynamic menus whenever possible • Take advantage of grouping and formatting options to aid findability • For accessibility, at a minimum, make the top level menu choice clickable

Texts, Fonts, and Links (30 minutes) Research Question Study Key Takeaways Should text links be underlined? (Tullis & Siegel, 2010) • In the majority of use cases, it may not matter whether links are underlined as long as the treatment is consistent. • When navigational links are located in-line, it is probably better to underline them. • When the primary purpose of some text is data display, and the link function is secondary, it is probably better not to underline it. How should links be worded? (Nielsen, 2009) • Front-load the text of your links with the important information. • Use plain and specific language. How do font size and type influence online reading? (Beymer, Russell, & Orton, 2008) • It is easier for users to read 14-pt text online than 10-pt text, as evidenced by the shorter fixation durations. • If line lengths are kept shorter, it should be possible to eliminate the extra time spent in return sweeps with a 14-pt font. Do fonts have personalities? (Shaikh, Chaparro, & Fox, 2006) • Users do attribute personality traits to fonts and these can be used to help set the “tone” of a web page. • For example, if you want the page to be perceived as Stable, Mature, and Formal, then Times New Roman (TNR) is probably your best bet! What’s the effect of ClearType? (Dillon, Kleinman, Choi, & Bias, 2006) •

Areas we’d like to see covered by empirical research (5 minutes) This discussion will highlight some of the gaps we were surprised to find in our research, and the areas that we hope researchers will continue to explore in the future. How you can keep track of on-going research (5 minutes) If a usability practitioner is interested in keeping up with the most recent research, how can they do this? We’ll provide resources that will help practitioners keep up to date even if they don’t have access to the academic journals. Wrap-up (5 minutes) We’ll wrap up the presentation and provide links and references for follow-up. We’ll also address any outstanding questions that were not answered earlier in the session.