Academic journal article Informatica Economica

Extending and Refining Usability Heuristics to Better Address User Centered Design Issues in the Development and Evaluation of Municipal Websites

Academic journal article Informatica Economica

Extending and Refining Usability Heuristics to Better Address User Centered Design Issues in the Development and Evaluation of Municipal Websites

Article excerpt

1 Introduction

The information society requires good quality information and better access to e-government services for end users. In this re-spect, usability of public administration web-sites is a key issue. According to many au-thors, effective e-government services for the citizen means useful and usable applications [2], [19], [30]. Unfortunately, the web con-tent is still difficult to use if not unusable in many municipal websites. The developers seem to neglect the basic principles of user centered design. The websites are more ori-ented towards the presentation of the town, City Hall structure, and offices than to the practical information a citizen might need to solve a concrete problem.

User centered design requires understanding users and tasks. This means to know who the users are and which are the goals they try to achieve. It also means to take a task-based approach to design and evaluation.

Improving website usability requires usabil-ity heuristics and guidelines that could better orient development and evaluation. Usability heuristics play an important role in the design process and should be both useful and usable for developers and evaluators.

Up to now there are two kinds of approach to website evaluation and two kinds of evalua-tion criteria that are used to evaluate munici-pal websites for usability.

First approach aims at assessing website usa-bility at general level. The evaluation criteria refer to general usability measures that are coded on some scale (e.g. a four-point scale [12]). The evaluation attempts to measure the degree to which such criteria are respected. Based on such measures a usability score is computed that enables ranking and compar-ing of municipal websites.

The second approach aims at identifying the difficulties a user has in performing a task and achieving a task goal with the website. The evaluation criteria refer to various design knowledge structured in form of principles, criteria, heuristics, and / or guidelines. This enables evaluators to identify and explain us-ability problems.

While the first approach to evaluation is summative the second is formative since it helps to uncover and fix usability problems as early as possible during the development process [32]. Although both approaches are useful, the latter is closer to end user re-quirements and could substantially improve the usability of public websites.

Previous usability studies targeting municipal websites revealed several specific usability problems [15], [28], [29]. Usability evaluation has been carried out in a scenario-based approach and revealed some difficulties in using an existing set of usability heuristics to explain and document these specific prob-lems.

In this paper an extended and refined set of usability heuristics is proposed that elabo-rates on some insights gained from previous usability studies. In this respect, the existing set is extended with two usability heuristics related to user guidance and task support.

The rest of this paper is organized as follows. In the next section we present related work in usability evaluation with a focus on local e-government websites. In section 3 we present the revised set of usability heuristics. The paper ends with conclusion and future work in section 4.

2. Related Work

2.1 User-Centered Design Issues

Since the adoption of the framework of ISO standard 13407 [16] on user centered design, many researchers advocated for user-centered and a task-based approach to design and evaluation. This requires taking an itera-tive approach to development, active partici-pation of users, understanding tasks and goals, and evaluation in context.

Gulliksen et al. [11] proposed a set of design principles for user-centered design. They recommend creating a user centered attitude throughout the project team and evaluate the use in context. In order to produce usable ap-plications usability guidelines should control the development. …

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