Chapter 5: Evaluating Web Sites
IntroductionOften, developers are faced with upgrading an existing Web site rather than starting from scratch. Being able to fully evaluate the execution of a Web site is an important skill that all developers should strive to master. Site evaluation is also a great way to learn from others. Looking at sites that are well executed may inspire designers, while evaluating those that are broken may show them how to avoid errors. Yet site evaluations are not always easy to conduct. Often, developers focus on what they are familiar with or focus only on surface aspects of sites, such as visual design. As in building a site, an evaluation of a site must focus not only on visuals but also on technology, content, purpose, and delivery. Even when keeping all aspects of Web design in mind, a developer looking at a site may not understand either the initial design considerations or the decisions made that result in what is being evaluated. In this sense, evaluators may have to act as archaeologists and try to uncover deeper meaning from basic site characteristics.
The primary method for site evaluation we present in this chapter is often termed expert evaluation. The goal is to study a site as informed developers and try to find common execution and usability problems. However, the problem with this type of site evaluation is that developers may not think like users and may assume that things are usable when they are not. Expert evaluation is simply no substitute for real user interviews and testing. Yet don't quickly dismiss expert analysis in favor of usability studies. User testing does little to uncover execution flaws, so we should make sure that sites pass the execution part of our evaluation first before wasting valuable user testing time. Further, many common usability problems are easily observable and user testing simply verifies what a skilled developer may already know to be true through experience. Given these considerations, we will proceed with an overview of expert evaluation first, followed by a discussion of conducting user testing.
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