Saturday, March 07, 2009

M364 Block 1, Unit 2, Computer Activity 2

Using the definitions given in Section 1.5.1 of the Set Book, informally evaluate how well the National Health Service (NHS) Direct and the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) websites satisfy the six usability goals described in Section 1.5.1 of the Set Book: effectiveness, efficiency, safety, utility, learnability and memorability.

For each of these I suggest you role play exploring the site as a member of the likely target audience - for the NHS Direct site, as someone with a minor illness, and for the RHS site as an enthusiastic gardener.

As it is easier to to evaluate an interactive product with a particular task or tasks in mind, I suggest that for the NHS Direct site you:
  • try to find the diagnosis for some symptoms
  • find the telephone number to call for further help
  • carry any other tasks that seem particularly worthwhile
Now explore the RHS site. I suggest that for this site you:
  • try to find a climbing rose, noted for its fragrance
  • find out the price to enter the RHS Gardens at Wisley
  • carry out any other tasks that seem particularly worthwhile
Whilst you are exploring the sites, I suggest you sketch the findings of your evaluation using a radar diagram as you did for Computer Activity 1.

How might you measure how well each of these goals has been achieved? This will be covered in detail in Block 4 of the course, so just use your judgement in this activity and see this as an opportunity to think through the issues.

A couple of years ago I had a throat condition so I decided to research this. I clicked on the "Self-Help Guide", chose "A-Z of Symptoms", clicked on "S", then "Sore throat in adults". I was presented with a Yes / No dialog. On reporting (truthfully, back then) that I was unable to swallow my own saliva, I was told to call 999, with a reminder of the sole question I had answered so far, and my answer. 

This was a very rapid drill-down, and was, if not exactly an informative answer, certainly good advice, so I felt the site scored well on efficiency and effectiveness. But I wanted a slightly lengthier investigation so I re-started with some of my three-year-old's recent symptoms and was guided through ten questions leading to a (correct) diagnosis of Chicken Pox, with helpful (and lengthier) advice. 

As in the previous case, my question-and-answer trail was visible on the screen and I could simply scroll up the screen to change an earlier answer and resume the enquiry from there.

Overall I was impressed by the effectiveness of the site. The main contact number was visible at all times, and the support for self-diagnosis was so much better than I had expected that I felt that it should have its own top-level domain rather than being one-amongst-many options from the main NHS Direct page so that more people would find and benefit from it.

The RHS site was pleasing on the eye but I found it a bit hard to get started - to find the admission price for Wisley, I had to go to "What's on" then choose between "RHS Gardens", which took me to the Wisley home site, and the "RHS Garden Finder", which eventually gave me a summary of the same information.

The search for a fragrant climbing rose took me to a page with a "To access RHS Plant Selector click here", which in turn led to a comprehensive query screen, where I entered "rose" as a key word then selected "Climber/wall shrub" for plant type and "Noted for fragrance" under as the fragrance option. The results page told me that I had 63 results matching my query "Noted for fragrance, Roses". Inspecting the results and finding for instance, both Rosa 'Cécile Brunner' and Rosa 'Climbing Cécile Brunner' demonstrated that the search engine had lost my "Climber/wall shrub" criterion. I repeated the query without the "Rose" key word and discovered that the results list included just 19 climbing fragrant roses. This procedure struck me as both inefficient and unsafe. These problems may have been complicated by the fact that I was not a registered member - the initial results said "63 plant(s) were found that matched your requirements. As an RHS Registered Member you would be shown  131 plants" but I was left with a lack of confidence in this function.

On further exploration I located the RHS Harlow Carr garden which is convenient for our regular family trips to North Yorkshire.

I documented my results as a Radar Chart - the attached thumbnail image will take you to the full size version.

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