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Web usability

Web usability is an approach to make websites easy to use for an end-user, without requiring her (or him) to undergo any specialized training. The user should be able to intuitively relate the actions he needs to perform on the web page with other interactions he sees in the general domain of life, e.g. press of a button leads to some action. The broad goal of usability can be:

  • Present the information to the user in a clear and concise way.
  • Give the correct choices to the users in a very obvious way.
  • Remove any ambiguity regarding the consequences of an action, e.g. clicking on delete/remove/purchase.
  • Put the most important thing in the right place on a web page or a web application.
 

What to do

It is important to understand:

  • Why you are developing a site.
  • Who should come to your site.
  • When and why those people might come.

Usability aspects, therefore, should be in mind during the whole process of creating and producing a site:

At the definition phase:

  • during the concept definition and planning of a new site
  • during the content definition and structural organisation of a new site

At the development/production of a prototype phase:

  • during the final decision of the final look and the “feel” of the new site
  • during the production of content and the technical elements involved
  • during the (internal/external) testing of the new site

At the quality control phase:

  • during the site quality control/quality assurance (internal or external) testing phase

At the publishing/distribution phase:

  • during the official launch of the new site
  • during the publicising of the new site

At the maintenance/evaluation phase

  • during the editorial maintenance and updates of a site
  • during the technical maintenance and updates of a site
 
 

Checklist

When evaluating the usability of a site, ask these questions:

  • Can the user easily find the information he is looking for?
  • Are the services offered easy to access and are the features offered easy to understand?
  • Is the content of the site presented in a consistent manner?
  • Has the site a logical and comprehensive structure and efficient navigation?
  • Are explanations provided on how the site has been organised or how navigation works?
  • Is it possible for the user to interact with the site and provide feedback? Does he get a quick and satisfactory reply?
  • Are search features offered?
  • etc.

As for the methods of evaluating those criterias, the famous online survey which gathers the general user satisfaction rate about a website is not sufficient. There are a variety of approaches to usability evaluation that you may choose to take.

 
 

Inputs

 

 
 

Outputs

  • Project report
  • Project quality plan report
  • Project testing report
  • Project quality control report
  • Site evaluation report
 
 

Guidelines and references

Related EU policy

  •  On 20 April 2004, the European Commission has published its Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on implementing the information and communication strategy for the European Unionpdf [298 KB] where one of the main objectives is “to use the Internet  to associate the public in European decision making and to listen to the public and their concerns in order to improve the perception of the EU and its institutions and their legitimacy”.
  • On 2 October 2002, the European Commission has published its Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on an information and communication Strategy for the European Unionpdf [149 KB] where it is stressed that “the EUROPA site remains an essential instrument  for bringing the institutions closer to ordinary people and facilitating  contact between Europeans and should be geared more to meeting information requirements of the general public, facilitating access to information sources directly linked to selected priority issues”.
  • On 25 July 2001, in its White Paper on European Governancepdf [179 KB], the European Commission acknowledged that genuine and coherent information and communications policy with the appropriate instruments to carry such policy were the main prerequisites for the development of better European governance.
  • On 6 July 2001, the European Commission has published its Communication by the President to the Commission in Agreement with Vice-President Neil Kinnock and Mr. Erkki Liikanen "Towards the e-Commission - EUROPA 2nd Generationpdf" [95 KB] where the roadmap is set for the implementation of 2nd generation  websites, reaffirming that EUROPA should offer “information services providing easy access for all to updated, user-friendly and multilingual information tailored to users’ needs”.
  • On 27 June 2001, the European Commission has published its Communication from the Commission to the Council, European Parliament  Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions on a new framework for cooperation  on an information and Communication strategy of the European Unionpdf [194 KB] where it is reaffirmed that “the main features of the new EUROPA sites should be interactivity, rapid and authentic consultations, research into support by public opinion and a simplified administrative practice for everyone”.
  • On December 1999, the eEurope - an Information Society for All initiative was launched by the European Commission to bring the benefits of the Information Society to all Europeans and to improve productivity and their quality of life by stimulating, among others, interactive public services, accessible to all and offered on multiple platforms.
 

Tools

The task of evaluating and improving the usability of websites can be daunting given the quantity of sites being produced, the frequency of updates, and the sheer size of many sites. As a result, some automated support for web designers and usability specialists will become an increasing necessity within the overall usability process. Automated usability tools can help save time and money in design and user testing improve consistency and quality of site design, and improve the systematic application of usability standards. Here are some examples of usability tools available in the market:

  • Web Link Validator, or W3C Link Checker, is a site management and link checker tools that help webmasters automate the process of web site testing: finds broken links (including those using JavaScript and Flash), orphaned files, slow-loading, deep, outdated and small-sized pages.
  • Web Static Analyzer Tool (WebSAT) - checks web pages HTML against typical usability guidelines.
  • Web Category Analysis Tool (WebCAT) - lets the usability engineer construct and conduct a web category analysis.
  • Web Variable Instrumenter Program (WebVIP) - instruments a website to capture a log of user interaction.
  • Framework for Logging Usability Data (FLUD) - a file format and parser for representation of user interaction logs.
  • FLUDViz Tool - produces a 2D visualization of a single user session.
  • VisVIP Tool - produces a 3D visualization of user navigation paths through a website.
  • TreeDec - adds navigation aids to the pages of a website.
 
 

Contact

For further information on usability issues, please contact the EUROPA team.

 
 

Workflow Details

  • Defining and planning a new site (i.e. type of site, possible definition and structure).
  • Content analysis, identification and organisation of information to be published (i.e. site content and functionality, content plan, tools and services for the site, WAI elements, metadata, etc.)
  • Defining the prototype.
  • Internal testing of the new site prior to the official launch.
  • External testing of the site prior to the official launch.
  • Regular and constant maintenance and evaluation in order to achieve optimal performance of the site.