"Count what is countable. Measure what is measureable. What is not measureable, make measureable." -- Galileo

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Usability for Seniors

I was visiting my parents yesterday at their new apartment in an assisted-living facility. Mom's broken hip last month has kept her from getting out much and so Carolyn did some online shopping with her. The excursion through the Land's End system had both of them lost in no time. Although it was clear to me, an IT professional, screens and menus had too many options and no clear overview of where you stood in the process and what was expected next.

We also checked out Dad's AOL e-mail account. The screen shot at left says it all--no wonder at 90 he can't navigate e-mail anymore. There are ads everywhere, dozens and dozens of links, multiple toolbars, multiple nested windows, multiple close buttons, lack of overall pattern, lack of focus, conflicting use of color. The interface tries to give you everything at once from a single screen. My company's internal webpage uses the same strategy and the result is that I hardly ever visit it.

I see the same thing with cell phones and note that some companies are producing phones with large numerals, simple interfaces, and clear access to the basic functions. With the folks, we stuck with a basic Verison phone and have not changed it in three years--probably never will. Same thing goes with TV remotes--some engineer thought that everyone of those 53 buttons was necessary.

Then there's Google, the epitome of simplicity. It does one thing and it does it brillantly. Given the comparison between AOL (or Yahoo!) and Google, it occurs to me to present a superficial look at CMS homepages. The following are all 1024x768 screen captures.

Double-click on an image to see the full-sized screen capture.

(Continued below after the mysterious gap. Gotta figure out what Blogger is doing with table tags and vertical spacing.)

Plone.org has a pastel palette without a strong focus, spreading common functions out evenly without distracting (or focal point) graphics. The box at the bottom of the page captures key Plone features with useful but not over-powering icons without pulling away from the key material above.

Contrast that with Drupal.org: deeper colors, clear focal point ("send money!"), a lot of space devoted to downloads, and most content "below the fold" just a news feed. Not much space given over to a rationale for choosing Drupal. The pale orange panel in the center almost apologizes for its collection of links.

Joomla! has also choosen the deeper palette of dark
blue with orange and green accents. Heavier use of graphics provides focus and the stark black download box works reasonably well for being tucked away in the lower right. The "Contribute" link scared me with its connotation of $$, but it goes to a very well done community activism page.

WordPress (not truly a CMS IMHO) has a large graphic
image that doesn't "do" anything and draws attention away from the download link. WordPress for Dummies jumps out due to its black-and-yellow thumbnail. A collection of three top-flight WordPress sites is lost off-screen at 1024x768.

DotNetNuke goes with what I found to be strangely washed out color scheme despite the use of red. That's probably due to the use of the oddly meaningless background image with the pale red gear and faint grey swirl. Lots of space given over to sponsors, who take the focus away from anything DotNetNuke-ish.

In closing, here's one of my favorites, Plone.net.
Comfortable colors, four well thought-out functional areas, simple navigation, and artful use of the Plone logo in the background make this very attractive as well as usable.

I'll come back to this topic soon for two important reasons:

  • As baby-boomers age, usability for the elderly and accessibility for the disabled and disadvantaged will become more important (as if we shouldn't be watching out for those populations no matter how small their demographic footprint).

  • As the world, especially developing nations come to rely more on cell phones, simplicity of operation, clarity of function, i18n features, and ease of use on mobile devices will become increasingly needed.

Next week I'll go beyond simple first impressions and dig into the
numbers that capture some aspects of usability. Stay tuna'd....


Wouter said...

Plone.net has a horrible look!

It's one of the ugliest Plone-sites I can think of. It looks like my grandma's old carpet.

Schlepp said...

You'll note that PloneMetrics uses an "old carpet" patterned background. Guess we have a difference of opinion on the aesthetic merits. I think Plone.net looked better when it had the original "IT team" photo banner. Take a look at http://plone.org/documentation/tutorial/creating-plone-themes/footer-styles. BTW, did Limi design the Plone.net skin or just write the tutorial?

At any rate, I'll stand by my usability assessment--Plone.net does its job very well and its not blue.

Helge said...

There is a new plone.org design on its way, which looks more 2009 than 1999.

Nomads Lounge said...

Always good to give attention to usability. I'm not interested in the aesthetic debates, but being able to see a page well and find what one is looking for is one thing all websites need to do. I just can't wait for the new plone.org design to come out...

One correction: your first link should say plone.org, not .net.

Chris (cjj | ifpeople.net)

Schlepp said...

Thanks for catching that, Chris. Change made :-)