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Wired “grannies”

Recently, we have had an opportunity to test usability of a website designated for female customers of middle and senior age. The average age of the six female participants was 59,3 years. A great opportunity to discover their user habits.

All of the female users came from Prague, Czech Republic. They regularly shopped online but usually just by entering an item number from a paper catalogue in their favorite online store – browsing the web wasn’t exactly their domain. Some of them were more experienced, others reacted to a computer by saying: “Oh my God, you can’t make me use this.”

We were testing interactive website wireframes. I was afraid that the users might have troubles to understand the principle of an imperfect web prototype. They didn’t. They coped with the prototype quite well and thus helped us identify problematic parts.

Besides immediate findings concerning the tested website, I have also noticed several interesting facts about user habits of the participants. And I’d be happy to share them with you.

1. Scrolling

None of the testers was using the scroll wheel of the mouse. They moved the page by clicking on the tiny arrows under and above the scrollbar. That is of course very tedious. Moving down and up the page is evidently a quite demanding activity for them and therefore more than ever it implies that what’s important, should be visible without scrolling.

2. Position on the website

The previous point is closely related to the fact that the users often didn’t perceive the website as a long “strip” that continues above or under the screen. They only perceived what’s currently visible in the browser. For example, when they viewed the lower part of the website they weren’t able to find the shopping bag which was located in the header. It’s not visible = it doesn’t exist.

3. Back button

An old truth was confirmed – Back button is the only browser component familiar for an overwhelming majority of users. The participants used the Back button very often. Far more often that the navigation mechanisms directly on the website. In case they needed it, they weren’t examining links on the website but simply navigated back.

Universal understandability of the Back button was proved by one tester who had never worked alone with a computer before and didn’t know the Back button. She herself however mentioned that such function would be useful and as soon as I showed her the button, she mastered it without hesitation.

4. Breadcrumb navigation

The website contained a very prominent breadcrumb navigation. Basically it was the main principle for orientation on the website. The assumption was that large breadcrumb navigation would be the easiest way of navigation. This assumption proved to be false. The testers obviously didn’t know the concept of breadcrumb navigation and as such, it wasn’t understandable for them. They haven’t used it at all during the study and the principle of page hierarchy within the web structure was foreign to them. The Back button mentioned above was much more intuitive and usable.

5. Tabs

The users weren’t familiar with the principle of tabs either. For most designers, tabs switching between different types of content without page reload are a completely standard and useful component. Not so much for the senior users. They didn’t have problem switching to another tab. However when they wanted to go back to the first tab they used the Back button. Thus they didn’t get to the previous tab but to the previous page from browser history. A different tab was a different page for them.

6. Forms

The users managed to fill in form fields successfully. Mostly, text inputs were completely trouble-free. The users understood that they had to enter text inside. Advanced features were less understandable. “Select” was used with difficulties, radio buttons were inconceivable for the users – especially the “choosing one means eliminating the rest” principle. Submitting the form using a button wasn’t a problem.

7. Drop-down menu

One variation featured classic horizontal menu dropping down after moving over it with a mouse. I was afraid that it would be difficult to handle for the users. However, it turned out that the drop-down menu was very comfortable for the users and all of them appreciated it. Even those who obviously had troubles controlling the mouse cursor in general.

8. Links

Even such basic feature as a link doesn’t have to be self-evident for the users. All links on the website were rigidly and consistently underlined and distinguished by colors. Thanks to that the users managed to orientate through the website quite well.

Nevertheless it was obvious that the users’ perception wasn’t 100% set to the fact that blue underlined text equals a link. In many cases such distinction didn’t represent sufficiently strong impulse. Particularly when the text of the link didn’t encourage clicking on it – a product name for example. The participants used links far more often when they had inducive names, such as “continue”, “go this way”, “order product” etc.

A short summary

I was surprised with the users’ behavior in several aspects. What I expected to be a problem, in the end wasn’t a problem. And on the contrary, things seemingly completely obvious were perceived differently by the users. I hope you find my remarks helpful for your design. And don’t forget to run your own testing – you always discover things you don’t expect.

Do you want to know more about the behavior of the female testers? I’d be glad to answer you info@experien­

Research and article by Adam Fendrych, Principal UX Designer at ExperienceU

Prague, Czech Republic, www.experience­

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