Usability Review for SARSWatch.org

Tim from SARSWatch.org asked me to critique on his site for usability, since I did it for my own site. “Other people’s eyes see problem’s better than the owner’s eyes.” said Tim.

Well. I am not a usability professional, but I am very interested in this topic. This afternoon, I just improved my site a little bit again with the help of the usability guidelines. SARSWatch.org is a easy-to-use website already with clear structure and nice visual elements.

Tim is right that other people’s eyes see problems better. The problem is, I check SARSWatch.org everyday and my eyes are not fresh eyes already. According to usability principals, oppions from fresh eyes are more valuable to correct usability problems. Anyway, I will have a try to analysize the SARSWatch.org – I believe my comment are very subjective. Just for your (Tim’s and my readers’) information.

Usability theory behind this review

Jakob Neilson is the guru in usability world. In his famous Alertbox, he has specified top 10 guidelines for homepage usability. Let me use his framework for my comment since they are proven guidelines. Thanks Jakob!

PRETTY GOOD: The Tagline and titles

It is good that Tim has a tagline for his site: following Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome around the globe. It is a pretty nice one since it distingurishes his website from other SARS website by stating the site is focused on SARS around the globe – for example, I only cover the situation in Shanghai (sometimes in China). This describes the content very well. However, the format of the tagline emphasized on the wrong word. I think globe is the keyword in this tagline since it reflects the characteristic of the site. How about this one: “Following SARS around the globe” (it is not better one, just an alternative).

It is good that every page on SARSWatch.org has a proper title – the title appearing on the browser’s window title. This helps search engine like Google to find the site more easily and the search engine result more readable.

GOOD: Contact information

Tim put the contact information right on the homepage on the top-right corner, with email address and the goal of the site:

Find out about the goals of the site, read:

Who Am I and Why SARS Watch Org?

This is the first part people are interested, so it naturally comes first.

PROBLEM: Discussion board

I noticed the discussion board was added about one month ago (correct me if I am wrong). Unfortunately, it may be confusion. According to my personal experience of website designing,

User’s attention is limited resource.

Places on web pages are real estate.

When you put something on to the page, you are placing the road block for the user to complete another task.

So if you want to add something, think about replacing some existing element.

The problem is, the discussion board is too similar with the comment functions for each article. People need to choose to post the question to the discussion forum (BBS) or under an article. They are two similar systems with two interfaces and two locations.

This explains the relatively low volumn of post compared to the huge page view of this site – I believe the traffic for SARSWatch.org is huge, 10 or 20 times more than my site.

Suggestion: consolidate the two system into one – maybe the comment system.

PROBLEM: Search box

It is good there is a search box (actually, a “find” box) directly on the homepage. The problem I see is, the text box is not wide enough and the background color (gray) is confusing.

Search is an important part of any big website. When users want to search, they typically scan the homepage looking for “the little box where I can type,” so your search should be a box. Make your search box at least 25 characters wide, so it can accommodate multiple words without obscuring parts of the user’s query.

Source: Alertbox

The find box on SARSWatch.org is only 15 characters in width. It can be wider. The background of the search box is gray. It is not consistent with the search box on other web sites. Usability means easy to use (which implies consistency across all web pages). This will often hurt the appearence of the site, hurt innovation, even hurtfunctions. So we need to balance.

It would to better if the search result page and the individual article page (example) have the same headers as the homepage. This is also about the consistency.

PROBLEM: Navigation bars

On the homepage, there is a navigation bar the at top.

Home  Discuss  Recent Articles  Net Resources  Books  News Headlines  Contributors  Join  Archives 

The first five links are the normal behavior of link – a new page is loaded into the current browser window. The problem is the next four. Try clicking “News Headlines” and I believe few people will find the headline at the first try – at least I was confused and asked “where are the headlines?” before I realized the headliens are at the right part of the page. It is the same for “contributor“, “join” and “archives“. I suggest to remove these since the content is listed at the right already.

I will give you another example of confusing link. Try to click the link below:

I suggest you to read SARSWatch.org for latest SARS information around the globe.

A surprise? You expect the page to loaded but your mail client appeared. This is also confusing. I didn’t find this kind of error in SARSWatch.org, but it is common on other sites.

Conclusion

I just roughly reviewed the site and give my comment. It is my “very humble oppion”. Critique is always easier than build. SARSWatch.org is among the best website emerges on the Internet. My best wishes to this site and thanks Tim for the great effort to provide SARS information for visitors around the globe

6 thoughts on “Usability Review for SARSWatch.org

  1. Wow. Thank you thank you.

    I agree with almost evrything you said, and will make changes to my site tonight.

    You are very right about the comments and BB – they should be integrated. Unfortunately, I haven’t figured out how to get the software to do it. Maybe I should just get rid of the BB?

    Thanks again for taking the time to review my site.

    One last question. Is the font too small?

    Thanks,

    Tim

  2. Well, you are surely welcome. I am glad that I helped.

    Regarding the font, I think it is OK. You are using 11px font, which is a small one. I think it is OK for me. I also had a hard time choosing the right font for my website. I am using 10pt (point, larger scale than px). The default browser font is 12pt. I love Jakob Neilson’s website which has 12pt font by default. It is much more readable.

    The only problem is, the font size is specified explicitly. So use cannot use View -> Text Size -> Largest or Smallest to change the font. My site has the same problem. I know it is very annoying for users if they font they cannot change the font when they want. The reason I didn’t change is, it may takes some time to test to ensure the page looks good for different font sizes – it is not easy.

  3. I’m so embarrased that I have not made more of the changes you suggested yet. I have been working on getting a real news page put together, displaying RSS feeds. I couldn’t find one on your site. Do you have an RSS feed? I know that Movable Type makes it easy to provide one.

    Thanks,

    Tim

  4. It is OK since I just use some simple usability rules to evaluate the homepage of your site. You don’t need to follow the suggestions. It is just for your information. :-)

    I do have RSS feed of both 0.91 version and 1.0 version. There are their URL:

    http://home.wangjianshuo.com/index.xml

    http://home.wangjianshuo.com/index.rdf

    It seems the usability of my site has some problem too. I have changed so you can find the links at the right bottom of my homepage.

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