Web age

July 26, 2011

The earlier posts on service usage (particularly e-service) and the web obviously struck home in a few cases by the number of re-Tweets, thank you all). I’d already started digging a little deeper, academically speaking, since despite the number of pages in them both the Fujitsu and the Race Online 2012 reports were a little lightweight.

The first call is to a near-classic (2003) paper entitled “User Frustration with Technology in the Workplace“, which as it says is more about office applications than strictly public-facing web pages, but surely the same rules apply, except in spade-loads? In the experiment reported in the paper users were found to waste more than 42% of their time when trying to use a computer. Some of this would be down to hardware and software failures, but that just adds to the frustration of anyone needing to use a web site, and is equally likely! The paper concluded that interface design was a major problem and resolving it required user involvement. A big issue was also found with unclear wording, regardless of user population and from my own experience I know (and I’ve done it myself) digital illiteracy compounds this – spellcheckers and even grammar checkers should be employed as a default, and the wording checked by someone unfamiliar with the operation being described. The paper also points to card-sorting or other methods of prototyping, along with the long-extant guidelines on error messages.

A more recent (2011), and publicly available paper is by Arthur G. Money, Lorna Lines, Senaka Fernando and Anthony D. Elliman and comes out of Brunel University. “e-Government online forms: design guidelines for older adults in Europe” reports research done for the European Commission. Since this is a research project for the EC a nifty acronym has been developed – DIADEM (how much of the three years did that take?) but the 23 DIADEM guidelines will have a general applicability without the necessity of an application, since they provide a useful checklist for developers.

Whilst there is a drive to develop websites taking into consideration the cognitive changes that occur with ageing, and whilst this may potentially have a specific bearing in some cases, there is going to be no harm in using these guidelines to encourage all ability users to use e-forms and web sites.