When was your last website usability checkup?
Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010
As you ponder how to continue to improve your website, a great tool to guide your time and investment is a usability test.
Usability testing is not new (been around since 1981) and it is not market research. It is a systematic observation of visitors using your site to determine what they want to do on the site and to improve their ability to complete those tasks. Mobile apps make it easier for people to easily accomplish tasks, putting more pressure on your site to do the same.
The first test is baseline and future tests (ad hoc or related to any type of site improvement and/or redesign) can be compared to baseline. Wikipedia defines the four goals of usability testing as follows:
Efficiency: How much time and how many steps does it require to complete basic tasks on the site?
Accuracy: How many mistakes were made and are they recoverable?
Recall: How much does the visitor remember after a period of non-use?
Emotional response: How does the visitor feel about the tasks completed? Would they recommend your site to others?
An interesting resource resides on this University of Texas website: http://www.utexas.edu/learn/usability/index.html
If you want to learn more about usability tests, contact us.tags: digital publishing, innovate, interactive, strategy, usability, usability test
Options for Your Digital Edition
Wednesday, September 15th, 2010
This post was written by Bob Atkinson, our Senior Technology Consultant who has over 25 years experience in graphic arts / publishing & new media industries.
Electronic editions are moving into the publishing mainstream and publishers big and small are rushing to move their content into the digital space. But before you rush in, you need to understand the options and issues …
For the widest audience potential, your digital edition should run on Windows and Mac desktop/laptop computers, as well as smart mobile devices using the Android and Apple (iOS) operating systems. Other smart mobile platforms (BlackBerry, Nokia/Symbian and Palm/HP WebOS) are nice additions as well, but remember that different mobile platforms still require separate versions, especially if you want a lot of digital 'extras'.
A basic digital edition of a publication is a recreation of the print edition done as a PDF file, usually with some form of copy-protection added. This simple approach to getting your publication in electronic format is limited in rich media, interactivity or live-updated content across the web. Sometimes basic versions are packaged in a Flash-based reader shell (i.e.: NxtBook), which can offer added interactivity or other capabilities.
The Pros? It's the least expensive approach and offers the widest compatibility (but watch out for Flash-based packages if the smart mobile audience is important to you, since Apple has prohibited Flash on its mobile devices and Flash on Android is still a bit iffy). Many newspapers and smaller magazines use this solution.
The Cons? It's very limited in terms of what you (or your advertisers) can add for interactivity, web connectivity or rich media. It's also screen-size specific, so if you build it for a desktop/laptop audience (perhaps 800x1000 pixel screen size) it's tedious for smart phone users with small screens to use -- lots of panning and zooming. Also, if you want text-based search capabilities you'll need to jump some hoops in the development process.
Coming up a level, the ePub and Kindle/MobiPocket formats can, with appropriate cheap or free software, run on almost all desktops/laptops, eReaders (Kindle, Sony Reader, Nook, etc.) and smart mobile devices (Android, Apple iOS, BlackBerry, Nokia, etc.).
The Pros? It also has limited rich-media / interactive capabilities, but it's screen-size independent, re-rendering / reflowing the pages on the fly, based on screen size and orientation (portrait/landscape). DRM/piracy protection is built in, fonts are user-resizable, text-based search is standard and there are a number of online stores to sell / distribute your product. Book, directory and industry report publishers are the biggest users of this method.
The Cons? Converting files meant for print publishing to ePub and MobiPocket format can be fairly tricky. There are numerous free or cheap conversion programs and web-based services that promise to painlessly convert InDesign or PDF files to ePub or MobiPocket, but 90% of the time you'll need to fix bugs that crop up in the converted file, which can be very time-consuming. It's often best to find a company that specializes in this conversion process and let them handle it. so you'll need to budget for their services.
The top level is to actually develop a self-running 'app' with a mix of built-in content and functions and live-updated web content windows. For desktop/laptop computers, this can be a downloadable self-running Flash or Adobe AIR program. For mobile platforms you'll need to build apps for iOS and Android separately. iOS-based devices – Apple's iPhone and iPad – are getting a lot of media attention these days, but Google's Android OS is coming on strong, with smartphone and tablet products from over 40 companies due in the next six months.
The Pros? You (and your advertisers) can put almost anything you want in an app of this sort – rich media and interactivity, custom user interfaces, direct-response surveys and ads, commenting and much more. This is the format used by many large publications – Sports Illustrated, Time, People, Wired, etc. – and can produce truly impressive results.
The Cons? Developing these apps, whether for Flash, AIR or iOS/Android mobile devices is a complex and technical process. It's NOT something you'd want to tackle with the normal publisher's team of writers, designers and pre-press/page layout people. The programming skills needed are not found in most IT departments either. Your best bet is to find an external technical developer with solid app development experience to work with you on producing your app editions. Also bear in mind that mobile apps are usually sold or distributed through app stores, so plan on a little red tape and some time to get your mobile product available to the public.
Finally, think of your business model. Is this something you give away to get your message and brand out there? Will you sell it? (Typical digital edition pricing ranges from 50% to 60% of the single-copy print price.) Will you offer it free or at a discounted price to your print subscribers? Will you sell advertising into it, either with your own sales people or through an ad network (Apple's iPad, AdMob, Google AdSense, etc.) How will you promote it? Getting it noticed and reviewed takes some time and effort, especially if your brand is not highly-visible.
Going digital is the future of the publishing business. Websites for all publications is a given, but full electronic editions are the next step in the evolution of the business. Just plan carefully.