New SURL Research

SURL (Software Usability Research Lab at Wichita State) released it’s semi-annual research report yesterday. There are 8 pieces of research in categories of Web Design, Alternative Devices, and Technology and Education.

Of particular interest (to me) is the research on determining user experience. From the piece by Bonnie Lida Rogers:

[M]easuring experience level by frequency of use and longevity of use may not be truly representative. Although measures of time and frequency typically show a high correlation, the online user’s experience level cannot be adequately evaluated by considering it as a single dimension. A more descriptive measure of experience might be “how” users experience the Internet rather than “how often.”

While this may fall under the oft heavily populated category of “Duh,” too often to I see demographic collection forms have selections for “How long have you been online”, “How much time do you spend online”, and “how much computer experience do you have”.

I have been guilty of this too. My forms use the 1-7 scale. Each section has a heading such as “Computer experience” and the range is “uncomfortable” to “very comfortable.” Of course, I also have a line at the top of the form to collect the important data of, “How are you feeling today?”

This will, of course, mean more work for us. Interviewing people as you build the user profile during analysis, and gathering participants for usability based on the user profile. It would be important to understand how the actions taken by users allow them to learn and anticipate (correctly or incorrectly) interactions taken in the future.

Time spent on the Web (in this instance I focus on the Web because it’s so darn popular) might be combined with the types of interactions had by users in the past to understand in a usability issue with the proposed site/app is something that needs to be looked at for intuitiveness, or learnability, or both. It might allow you to focus your effort on the right solution to the issue.

Our initial analysis suggests that what people are doing online (activities) and how they feel (affect) while online is a more robust measure of their online experience level than simply the time and frequency of going online.

Related posting by Lyle on the breadcrumb research.