How To Quantify The User Experience

Many look to the user experience as an overall indicator of Website success. Analyzing how effectively a Website provides for a net positive user experience can often turn into a subjective affair, rife with opinion and short on objectivity.

This article outlines a quick-and-dirty methodology for quantifying the user experience, which I’ve found to be very useful in providing clients with a quick, objective, visual representation of where their site stands vis-à-vis the competition or past development efforts.

What is the User Experience?

The term "user experience" refers to a concept that places the end-user at the focal point of design and development efforts, as opposed to the system, its applications or its aesthetic value alone. It’s based on the general concept of user-centered design.

The user experience is primarily made up of a four factors:

  • branding
  • usability
  • functionality
  • content

Independently, none of these factors makes for a positive user experience; however, taken together, these factors constitute the main ingredients for a website’s success.

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Take, for example, a brilliantly designed site that routinely gives server errors, or times-out. Or imagine a fantastic, database-driven application that, for some reason or other, is never used because it’s buried deep within the bowels of the site’s information architecture. In both cases, we see that the independent elements of branding, usability, functionality and content structure aren’t necessarily indicative of a site’s success. Yet, when taken together, these core elements provide the basis for the user experience.

The Need for an Objective Analysis Tool

Say you’ve got a new lead — they’re unhappy with their Website in its current form and want you to help steer the site in the right direction. If you’re like me, the first thing you’ll do is take a look at the site and make some cursory mental notes. How then do you convey these ideas and notes back to the client without simply ripping the current site apart?

The problem is that each of our perceptions of how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ a Website is, is skewed by our personal backgrounds and specialties within the industry. Asked to evaluate a Website’s benefits and constraints, a developer, usability professional, designer or information architect may come up with an entirely different critique.

An objective tool for measurement and analysis helps you provide your clients with fact-based recommendations, as opposed to mere conjecture and opinion. The methodology we’ll explore in this article will help you to:

  • Remove your personal preferences (subjectivity) from the equation as much as possible.
  • Enable persons with different backgrounds (designers, developers, clients) to share a common understanding of the site.
  • Create ground rules for comparisons of the site to those of competitors, or past development efforts.
  • Provide your clients with a fact-based, visual representation of their site’s benefits and limitations.
Measuring the User Experience

As mentioned above, the user experience is made up of four interdependent elements:

  • branding
  • usability
  • functionality
  • content

But, how can we quantify and measure these seemingly intangible elements?

The methodology is quite simple. We separate our analysis into four sections — one for each of the four elements of the user experience. For each of these elements, we create a series of statements or parameters against which the Website in question will be measured. A scale of 1 to X is created for each of the statements; we give each statement a score within this range.

Once you’ve completed this first part of the analysis, you should have a score for each of the statements in each of the four sections.

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In the sample analysis attached to this article, we only used five statements or parameters for each element. Consequently, we work with a 20-point scale, so that the maximum total score of the site is 100. So, if we added an extra five statements or parameters to each element, we’d rate each on a 10-point scale.

Below, find a brief explanation of each of the elements and the statements or parameters used in the sample analysis.

Branding

Branding includes all the aesthetic and design-related items within a Website. It entails the site’s creative projection of the desired organizational image and message. Statements used to measure branding can include:

  • The site provides visitors with an engaging and memorable experience.
  • The visual impact of the site is consistent with the brand identity.
  • Graphics, collaterals and multimedia add value to the experience.
  • The site delivers on the perceived promise of the brand.
  • The site leverages the capabilities of the medium to enhance or extend the brand.

Functionality

Functionality includes all the technical and ‘behind the scenes’ processes and applications. It entails the site’s delivery of interactive services to all end users, and it’s important to note that this sometimes means both the public as well as administrators. Statements used to measure a site’s functionality can include:

  • Users receive timely responses to their queries or submissions.
  • Task progress is clearly communicated (e.g., success pages or email updates).
  • The Website and applications adhere to common security and privacy standards.
  • Online functions are integrated with offline business processes.
  • The site contains administration tools that enhance administrator efficiency.

Usability

Usability entails the general ease of use of all site components and features. Sub-topics beneath the usability banner can include navigation and accessibility. Statements used to measure usability might include:

  • The site prevents errors and helps the user recover from them.
  • Overall page weight is optimized for the main target audience.
  • The site helps its visitors accomplish common goals and tasks.
  • The site adheres to its own consistency and standards.
  • The site provides content for users with disabilities.

Content

Content refers to the actual content of the site (text, multimedia, images) as well as its structure, or information architecture. We look to see how the information and content are structured in terms of defined user needs and client business requirements. Statements used to measure content can include:

  • Link density provides clarity and easy navigation.
  • Content is structured in a way that facilitates the achievement of user goals.
  • Content is up-to-date and accurate.
  • Content is appropriate to customer needs and business goals.
  • Content across multiple languages is comprehensive.

In most instances, I use from 10-20 separate statements for each of these four elements. I suggest you use the statements above as a basis for creating your own analysis. Remember that if you add more statements, you must also refine the 20-point scale so that each element’s total score is 100. For example, if you used 10 statements for each element, then your rating scale would be 1-10. If you used 20 statements for each element, your scale would be 1-5.

For a example of this style of analysis download this sample Excel file.

Displaying Your Results

Once you’ve completed your analysis and have values for each of the statements or parameters, it’s time to put this data into a clear, communicative format.

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The first thing we want to do is add up all the values for each element. Because we’ve set the point scale to provide with a maximum score of 100 for each element, what we really have is a percentage score. Once we have these percentage values, what I’ve found works best is to create a Spider chart to visually represent them. Microsoft’s Excel or Open Office Calc both work well here, although any spreadsheet program with graphing capabilities will do.

Using your spreadsheet program, you can generate a host of visual representations of the data. See the sample file you downloaded above for more examples.

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Get Creative with Your Analysis

The great thing about the analysis and methods described in this article is that they can be catered to your specific client or project needs.

There’s no reason why you couldn’t add a fifth category to the analysis to describe accessibility or business metrics. For example, say you’ve got a government client that needs to adhere to Section 508 regulations (for the U.S.). You could easily create a set of statements or parameters that deal exclusively with the accessibility element, modifying your charts to display accordingly. Likewise, it would be very easy to create a category that deals exclusively with your client’s important business metrics, for example, ROI, click-through rates, conversions, or repeat customers.

Alternatively, this platform of analysis can enable you to add greater weight to particular elements of your choice. Say you have a client who’s a luxury goods manufacturer, and is heavily focused on branding and look and feel. There’s no reason why you couldn’t create a modified measurement system that gave greater weight to the branding elements and less to, say, the usability elements.

Practical Uses

I’ve incorporated this analysis into a number of different projects on which I’ve worked. Often, I include a ‘quick and dirty’ analysis as an appendix to a new client proposal, to provide the prospective clients a snapshot view of where their site stands vis-à-vis the competition.

Providing this kind of review also gives you an excellent chance to display your professionalism. Chances are that other firms bidding on the RFP in question will not include such ‘free’ consulting services — and your inclusion of this report in your proposal may be a decisive factor in your favor.

In other instances, I’ve had clients pay for an in-depth analysis of their site complete with recommendations. This type of report includes, for each of the statements or parameters, several descriptive paragraphs complete with examples or screen shots. If I’m ultimately hired to follow through on my recommendations, I often schedule another evaluation six months after the launch of the site as a means of showing improvement, while at the same time reinforcing the value of my services.

This type of analysis can also serve as a gateway project that leads to further business. If you price the analysis well, it can be a great tool for getting your foot in the door and showing the new client the benefits of your services.

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