Friday, 9 September 2011

Findings from the first stage of ReScript user testing

We have recently completed our first tranche of usability testing for ReScript, which produced very interesting findings. Peter Webster put nine volunteers, selected for different career stages and a good spread of period specialism, through their paces with the prototype ReScript interface. It is of vital importance to elicit honest feedback during usability testing, so Peter made a point of telling the volunteers that he did not have anything invested in this particular design. If users are worried about hurting someone’s feelings, they are less likely to provide the sort of frank responses to a design that prove invaluable. Users were enthusiastic about the possibilities for editing that ReScript provides, but it soon became clear that there were some fundamental challenges that were making the interface difficult for them.

Rather than merely tweaking the existing design, Project Manager Bruce Tate took note of the findings from the first tests and went back to the drawing board. He is currently finessing the second version of the ReScript interface, taking on board all that was learned from Peter Webster’s user tests. And the results so far are very impressive. As Bruce rightly observed in a recent posting on the British History Online blog, it is important to conduct user testing at an early enough stage to enable designers to contemplate major changes. Usability/learnability needs to inform all stages of a project right from the beginning, rather than being thought of as something to be tacked on near the end of a project.

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