Usability testing lab seeks to improve website navigation

A new website usability testing lab
is up and running at William Woods University, allowing students to study and
improve website navigation.

According to Dr. Linda Davis, WWU
professor of management information systems (MIS), usability testing,
especially as it involves websites, is important. 
“Many of you have arrived at a
website, found it hard to navigate and became frustrated when it was hard to
find the information or item you wanted. You soon left the website and
continued to another website,” she said. 
“Websites that are hard to use,
lose users,” Davis said. “Losing users often relates to losing revenue.
Businesses cannot afford to lose revenue. 
In addition, a poorly designed website can decrease employee
MIS received $5,000 for the new lab
in July from the university’s creative development grant. Applying for the
grant was a joint effort by Davis, the Student Website Advancement Team (SWAT)
and the spring 2011 grant-writing class, under the direction of Dr. Stephanie
Wells, assistant professor of English. 
Those funds were used to purchase
the Morae software, two new computers to run the software, a conference table
and chairs, a flat screen monitor for viewing the tests, wireless USB
connectors, wireless headphones and equipment for a testing station.
Davis, the members of SWAT and
other MIS majors have started to learn the mechanics of the software.
 “It is definitely a learning process,” Davis
said, “but we’re getting more competent every day.”
Hannah Wiseman, a senior equine
administration major and director of the usability lab, said, “We should be
ready to start testing outside clients’ websites soon.”
When the time comes, SWAT may have
more outside clients than they can handle.
“One of our SWAT members, Robert
Williams, interned with four different companies in St. Louis this summer, and
all of them have expressed interest in having us test their sites,” Davis said.
The need for a usability testing
lab at William Woods University was partially inspired by the students’ trip to
Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Mo., last spring to view their
usability testing and human factors lab.
Missouri Western’s usability
testing program is one of only three graduate-level programs in the Midwest,
and they’ve agreed to partner with William Woods University. This partnership
will allow William Woods students to tour their lab and learn new methods for
usability testing. For those students interested in attending graduate school
in this field, the transition will be that much easier.
William Woods is the second
university in Missouri to have a fully functioning usability testing lab at the
undergraduate level. Davis hopes that learning usability testing as an undergraduate
student will both encourage and prepare her students for attending graduate
school in the field of usability testing or moving to advanced-level website
development jobs. 
“We’re also hoping to get a new
class created to teach students how to develop the tests, how to use the
software and then how to analyze the results, so that all MIS students can
benefit from it, not just SWAT members,” Davis said.
According to Davis, having a
website usability lab also allows for the possibility of a new major, or at
least a new concentration in this up-and-coming field.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
states, “The job outlook is excellent for computer software usability
specialists with a projected 20 percent increase in jobs through 2018.”  
“With future job prospects strong,
this lab and the current program can only help widen student career options,”
Davis said.  “The new usability testing
lab at William Woods will give students the skills they need to go right to the
top of this exciting field.”
For more information on having your
website tested or participating in a website usability test, contact Davis at