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Published: March 15, 2001.


Usability Analysis for Online Museum Interfaces
Paul Marty , Spurlock Museum, University of Illinois, USA
Michael Twidale , University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA

Session: Usability Engineering

As with all computer-based systems, a poorly designed online user interface can mean the difference between satisfied users who find easy access to desired content materials and frustrated users who quickly grow irritated with a web site and leave in disgust. As museums reach out to ever wider audiences in the online community, it is important that museums understand the needs and expectations of all their potential users, including those who have had limited experience with advanced computer technologies. Even the most sophisticated design can benefit from usability testing with a variety of representative users.

This workshop will explore how the theories and techniques of human computer interaction can be applied to the context of online museums. It will focus on the application of usability engineering principles to online museum interfaces. Participants will learn how to undertake usability studies to understand user difficulties with existing systems and to use the results of those findings to incrementally improve design.

We will look at a range of typical museum web applications, including basic information oriented sites, web-enabled collections management systems, virtual exhibits, online interactive educational programs, and advanced interactivity such as cyberdocents and e-commerce for museums. The techniques learned can also easily be applied to any kind of computer-based application in museums.

The course will be heavily pragmatic, hands-on, and will directly address the challenge of performing usability analyses when designing museum web sites under tight constraints of budget and time.