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Web Site Navigational Structure: an Argumentative Analysis on Web Site Design and Usability

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Running Head: Web Site Navigation Structure: An Argumentative Analysis on Web Site Design and Usability

Web Site Navigational Structure: An Argumentative Analysis on Web Site Design and Usability
Yu Wen Chiang
Northeastern University

Advanced Writing in the Disciplines
Professor Suzanne Richard
October 18, 2012

Running Head: Web Site Navigation Structure: An Argumentative Analysis on Web Site Design and Usability

Many designers and engineers seem to be discussing what is good and bad user experience and how we’re supposed to delight our users so that they navigate our websites with ease. User experience can be a very blurry concept and consequently, many people use the term incorrectly. Many engineers seem to have a firm (and often unrealistic) belief in how they can craft the user experience of their product. However, a UX depends not only on how something is designed, but also other aspects such as clean, clear sign-up forms, smooth on-boarding experiences, and even helpful blank slates once users are inside applications. Design flows that are tied to clear objectives allow us to create a positive user experience and a valuable one for the business we’re working for.
“Web sites are not always as successful or as usable as they could be. Users can encounter various problems when trying to acquire knowledge from a Web site and trying to use a Web site’s functionalities.” (X. Fang, 2012, p.453)
Because the Web design industry is now flooded with a lot of raw talent, and because virtually anyone can create a “beautiful” website, recognizing a truly beautiful website experience is becoming increasingly difficult. What appears beautiful to the eye might in fact be more of a hindrance when trying to maneuver around for information and product details. When users look for important material, they have a core goal in mind and are on a mission for specific information, research or to make a purchase.
The purpose of this paper is to analyze user-interface-aesthetics, discuss the construction of website navigation and compare UX task complexities.
Running Head: Web Site Navigation Structure: An Argumentative Analysis on Web Site Design and Usability

User Interface-Aesthetics (low vs. high)
Perceived usability of a website by a user is often more influential than the actual product efficiency and ease of use. The visual appeal of an interface appears to play a role in the user’s rating on perceived usability. The purpose of this study was to further examine the relationship between website usability, aesthetic appeal, and user satisfaction both before and after completing tasks that are directed (search vs. browse) - as noted in Computers in Human Behavior:

“Three out of five studies showed a significant effect of interface-aesthetics on perceived usability whereas two report a trend in this direction. The most beautiful interfaces were evaluated higher on usability. In addition to the aesthetics effect, (Ben-Bassat et al. and Lee and Koubek p. 1598) found a significant effect of interface-usability on perceived aesthetics, meaning that a more usable interface led to higher aesthetics ratings. Nevertheless, the effects of aesthetics were more pronounced than the effects of usability In conclusion, it seems that a pure ‘‘what is beautiful is usable’’ notion is only partially supported. There is also some evidence that in certain cases the relation is best described as ‘‘what is usable is beautiful”.”

The importance of the visual appeal of websites has shown that aesthetics play an important role in first impressions of a website. So, if a user likes the appearance of a website when they first see it, they may continue to like it regardless of how successful they are in using the site. It appears to be unclear how much influence the tasks users do with the site have on perceptions of satisfaction and appeal.
Running Head: Web Site Navigation Structure: An Argumentative Analysis on Web Site Design and Usability

A site's usability will influence users more if they are searching for specific information than if they are just simply browsing. Contradictory, the International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics has a different approach:

“The most important design factor in user interfaces is the interaction between the user and the system. End users of the interface are the system’s users (customers), while the purpose of the interface is to effectively support the user’s task.”

Understanding the user’s behavior is necessary when engineering a website design because the user’s actions are the most important factor in a user-centered interface design.
In order to design better search experiences, we need to understand the complexities of human information-seeking behavior. Site search users present significantly different information needs to those of enterprise search, implying some key differences in the information behaviors required to satisfy those needs. In particular, the site search users focused more on simple “lookup” activities, contrasting with the more complex, problem-solving behaviors associated with enterprise search. Also having repeating patterns or ‘chains’ of search behavior in the site search can be used as a framework for understanding information seeking behavior that can be adopted by other researchers who want to take a ‘needs first’ approach to understanding information behavior. In the end, understanding the audience’s behavior patterns will result in a well-constructed website that suits the needs of the end user.
Running Head: Web Site Navigation Structure: An Argumentative Analysis on Web Site Design and Usability

Conclusive Findings: User Interface-Aesthetics (low vs. high)
An attractive homepage entices users to view more of the site and creates feelings of interest and initial satisfaction. If the homepage is unattractive, users do not appear to be interested, nor do they desire more interaction with the site. Designers must develop a homepage that not only attracts user’ attention but also engages them. This research suggests that an attractive site is more likely to pull in users than an unattractive site regardless of how well it is designed from a usability standpoint. An unattractive site, despite high usability, does not attract user interest and maintains low satisfaction.

Determining the Best and Worst Elements for Web Site Navigation
Too often, systems are designed with a focus on business goals, fancy features, and the technological capabilities of hardware or software tools. Navigation is only one segment of a web site's informational architecture, but it is the most important. Even though many web sites are moving toward a more unified face for each product brand, department, and country, most intranets and Web applications aren't nearly as far down the path toward unified information architecture. Unifying all your Web applications under one interface can be extremely difficult. Creating a common user interface and unifying all your user logins and passwords with a central directory server or single sign-on solution is a painful application integration task, especially with legacy, externally hosted (ASP), or third-party software.

Running Head: Web Site Navigation Structure: An Argumentative Analysis on Web Site Design and Usability

“The level of user experience and knowledge is a dominant factor in selecting an appropriate interface (Gerlach and Kuo 1991 p.458). Users respond differently depending on their levels of expertise and familiarity with computers (Hamlin 1991 p.458). Users can be classified as novices with limited knowledge of the application and the domain of the system, or as relative experts who have greater experience of the application and system domain.”

According to “The effects of usability and web design attributes on user preference for e-commerce web sites.” (Sangwon Lee a,1, Richard J. Koubek b,* p. 330) Usability is the quality of a system that makes it easy to learn, easy to use, easy to remember, error tolerant, and subjectively pleasing. From a user’s perspective, a good user interface can make the difference between performing a task accurately and completely or not, and enjoying the process or being frustrated. From a developer’s perspective, usability is vital because it can mean success or failure of a system. From a management point of view, software with poor usability can reduce the productivity of the workforce to a level of performance worse than without the system. In all cases, lack of usability can cost time and effort and can greatly determine the success or failure of a system. Given a choice, people tend to use more user-friendly websites.

Running Head: Web Site Navigation Structure: An Argumentative Analysis on Web Site Design and Usability

Some common mistakes designers &engineers make are avoiding consumer feedback, fixing too many elements too quickly resulting in larger mistakes, having separate researchers and designers, and overly elaborating prototypes and wireframes. It’s also important to have building standards in place to ensure that the website is being built and maintained correctly, it’s also a good idea to have UX standards and guidelines in place to ensure that good UX design principles and practices are followed.
To increase the usability of user interfaces, two conditions must be met (Thovtrup and Nielsen, 1991 p. 672): (1) The design guidelines must specify a usable interface, and (2) they must be usable for designers so that they actually build the interface according to the specifications.
Studies have been done and The International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics, (Mosier and Smith (1986) p. 672) surveyed the use of a particular set of guidelines by 130 professionals, and reported that only 58% of design guidelines users attained success in finding the information they needed, while 36% did not always find them. However this study did not elaborate on the ages and occupations of the professionals which may in fact have made a difference.
“When we design systems for users to communicate with computers, we must consider the user first, as the goals for a good human–computer interaction are decreased errors, increased satisfaction for the user, and better performance of machine-assisted tasks.” (Porta, 2002; Turk and Kölsch, 2005 p. 594)

Running Head: Web Site Navigation Structure: An Argumentative Analysis on Web Site Design and Usability

Conclusive Findings: Determining the Best and Worst Elements for Web Site Navigation
“The level of user experience and knowledge is a dominant factor in selecting an appropriate interface (Gerlach and Kuo 1991). Users respond differently to computer systems depending on their levels of expertise and familiarity with computers (Hamlin 1991 p. 458).”

Allowing the user, not the computer, to initiate and control actions will keep the experience stress-free. Some applications attempt to assist the user by offering only those alternatives deemed good for the user or by protecting the user from having to make detailed decisions. Because this approach puts the computer, not the user, in control, it is best confined to parts of the user interface aimed at novice users. The key is to provide the best level of user control that is appropriate for the audience.

The Appearance of Complexity
In design and UX, a simple-looking approach generally receives more praise than a complex-looking one. Google is often held up as an exemplar of simplicity. Even though the back-end workings of Google are incredibly complex, a search engine’s UI inherently lends itself to simplicity; the interface doesn't require much in the way of controls or content. Simplicity of use is confused with taking a minimalist approach in the UI design.

Running Head: Web Site Navigation Structure: An Argumentative Analysis on Web Site Design and Usability

The amount of data that needs to be presented affects the perceived complexity of applications. When creating a UI, generally speaking, having as few elements as possible on screen is usually the best approach. Simplifying UIs by removing unneeded navigation and UI elements is important to creating focus. But in some cases, it’s more important to keep a higher level of information density.
“Expert users tend to be able to perform more sophisticated tasks than novice users” (Vatanasombut et al. 2004 p. 459).

Much research has been explored, and Xiang Fang mentions “The exceptional situation for novice users performing complex tasks might be attributable to relatively inconsistent behavior of novice users or a novice feeling of being overwhelmed by task complexity regardless of the navigation structure furnished by a KA aid.”

Achieving a balanced mix of evaluation methods is not straightforward, and involves more than simply combining analytical and empirical methods to discover what is simple and/or complex. This is because there is more to usability work than simply choosing and using methods.

User testing ‘methods’ miss out equally vital ingredients and project-specific resources such as participant recruitment criteria, screening questionnaires, consent forms, test task selection criteria, test briefing scripts, target thresholds, data analysis methods, or reporting formats.

Conclusive Findings: The Appearance of Complexity
In the end, simplicity should not be the goal. Balancing the amount of complexity that we engage with is something that UX people deal with on a daily basis. A good experience should be the result of using UX design to find what is meaningful to that end user and present it in the best way possible. The complexity may be unavoidably inherent to the workflow and tasks that need to be performed, or in the density of the information that needs to present. By balancing complexity and what the user needs, you can to continue to create successful user experiences.

In Conclusion:
Making an application beautiful may lead to a satisfying user experience, but it will not guarantee a usable product. For example, an ugly website like Craigslist performs its function fairly well. Its poor aesthetic did not stop the site from becoming incredibly successful. The minimalist interface of the Google search engine manages to fully accomplish its objectives without getting in your way. The interface disappears, letting you focus on getting things done.
Steve Jobs was once quoted saying, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like, design is how it works.” The usability and overall usefulness of a web application is governed by how well it performs its functions and how easily those functions are accessed. Design with a goal in mind — a goal that the interface helps users achieve.

Works Cited
Kim, Huhn “International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics.” Elsevier, May 2010
Tuch, Alexandre N.; Roth, Sandra P.; Hornbæk, Kasper; Opwis, Klaus; Javier, Bargas-Avila A. “Computers in Human Behavior” Elsevier, April 2012
Fang, Xiang; Holsapple, Clyde W. “Impacts of Navigation Structure, Task Complexity, and Users’ Domain Knowledge on Web Site Usability—an empirical study” Elsevier, January 2010
Huhn Kim “Effective Organization of Design Guidelines Reflecting Designer’s Design Strategies” Elsevier, September 2010

Sangwon Lee a,1, Richard J. Koubek b,* “The Effects of Usability and Web Design Attributes on User
Preference for E-commerce Web Sites” Elsevier, January 2010

Alexandre N. Tuch a,⇑, Sandra P. Roth a, Kasper Hornbæk b, Klaus Opwis a, Javier A. Bargas-Avila a “Is Beautiful Really Usable? Toward Understanding the Relation Between Usability, Aesthetics, and Affect in HCI” Elsevier, April 2010

Marc Hassenzahl a,b,*, Sarah Diefenbach a, Anja Göritz c “Needs, Affect, and Interactive Products – Facets of User Experience” Elsevier, April 2012

Cristina Manresa-Yee a,*, Pere Ponsa b, Javier Varona a, Francisco J. Perales a “User Experience to Improve the Usability of a Vision-Based Interface” Elsevier, July2012…...

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