How do I know whether my Web site meets the needs of
users with limited literacy skills?
By involving users with limited literacy skills
throughout all stages of Web site development. This is called user-centered
User-centered design is accomplished through an iterative
process. The iterative process can be summed up in three words: Test. Revise.
Imagine spending money and time designing a Web site from
start to finish, only to discover that your users are unhappy with the site or
unable to find what they are looking for (or both).
Instead, involve users as codesigners. Have users try out
your Web site early on, and continue to test different sections of your site as
you develop them. Fine-tune as you go to avoid a major overhaul. This is
The key to iterative design is to continually apply what
you learn from users to improve your site.8
Summary of Iterative Design and Testing Methods
Common iterative design methods are briefly described
here. At the end of each chapter, we suggest specific methods and tips you can
use to test and improve your Web site.
Individual interviews involve talking to users one on one,
either in person or over the phone. Unlike a usability test, you aren't
watching the participant work. You are finding out background information about
their information preferences, habits, and experiences.8,23
Focus groups are similar to individual interviews, except
that you are interviewing several participants (typically 5 to 10) at once. A
moderator facilitates the focus group and uses a script to lead the discussion.
Focus groups are used to learn about users' beliefs, attitudes, or reactions to
a design or prototype.8
Conduct a task analysis to find out what users are trying
to accomplish on your Web site and how they currently accomplish those
tasks.8,13,23,24 What steps
do they take? What tools do they use? A task analysis can be done through
observation or interviews.
A task analysis can help you "unpack" the requirements or
demands put on users to accomplish a task on your site. Often we make false
assumptions about Web users' knowledge or skills. For example, we may assume
users know what BMI (body mass index) stands for or that users will correctly
interpret the meaning of an icon or symbol.
Personas and Scenarios
A persona is a made-up individual who embodies the
characteristics of the real users you may have interviewed and the data you
gathered. When creating a persona, include demographics, values, access to
technology, and quotes.7,8,13,2527
It helps to give your persona a name and a picture. Keep
your personas in mind as you design your site. Ask yourself: Would Susan use
this? How would Joe approach this task?
Once you've developed personas for your site users, you
are ready to develop scenarios. Scenarios are short stories that describe the
goals and tasks of your users.7,8,24 They can help
paint a realistic picture of how personas use your Web site.
Card sorting can help you group or organize information on
your Web site. Many people use card sorting to help with information
architecture. The topics and information featured on your site are listed on
index cards. Participants are asked to sort or organize the cards into
categories that make sense to them. You also can use card sorting to prioritize
information by importance.23
A prototype is a mockup of your Web site, similar to a
rough draft. Start with a paper prototype or wireframe. (A wireframe is an
illustration of the layout of a Web page.) Each piece of paper represents a
page of your Web site. Users tell you which information or link they would
click on, and you show them the new piece of paper (or "screen").8,22,24,28,29
As you get further along in the development process,
consider building a clickable prototype. This HTML (hypertext markup language)
"shell" lets users click through several screens of content.
In usability testing, a moderator observes a user
performing tasks on your Web site. Have participants "think out loud" as they
use the site to help you understand their approach and process. Note where
users have problems or get lost.22,30,31