Glossary: Usability Terminology


Accessibility refers to web page information/content being obtainable and functional to largest possible audience. If a person cannot access a web page he certainly cannot use it. It is about providing access to information for those who would otherwise lose their opportunity to use the web.

Card Sorting
A categorization method where users sort cards depicting various concepts into categories. Index cards indicate a list of all the items to be sorted. Users are then asked to divide the cards into piles of groupings the way they best see a fit. This technique is best used in the early stages of development.

The quality of an interface when it behaves in ways users expect. It means that users can apply the knowledge obtained in some previous experience to enhance current performance.

An eyetracking device observes a person’s pupil to determine the direction of their gaze. It can aid in learning the relative intensity of a user’s attention to various parts of a web page.

Expert Review
An analysis technique for websites and software applications that involves a review by a minimum of 3 experts using a standardized & exhaustive checklist of at least 13 heuristics. After the individual experts are done with their individual evaluation they come together for a close discussion on their score on each heuristics.

Focus Group
An analysis technique that is carefully planned series of discussions designed to obtain perceptions on a defined area of interest in a permissive, non-threatening environment (Krueger and Casey, 2000)

Graphical user interface. Pronounced “GOOEY”

Guideline Checklists
Help ensure that usability principles will be considered in a design. Usually, checklists are used in conjunction with a usability inspection method: the checklist gives the inspectors a basis by which to compare the product.

Human Computer Interaction. It is the study of how people relate to electronic tools and interfaces.

Heuristic Evaluation
When a group of usability experts scrutinize a website and evaluate each element of the site against a list of commonly accepted principles. A major drawback of heuristic evaluation is that the experts might not be the real users of the system being evaluated.

Information Horizon
A diagram drawn by users that, based on the Information Horizons theory by Sonnenwald, indicates the different sources of information and the path the user would consider traversing to fulfill an information need.

Information Architecture
The organization of information. This field studies how to organize information most effectively to help people find and use information. It also refers to the structure or organization of a website, especially how pages relate to one another.

Information Retrieval
A diagram drawn by users that, based on the Information Horizons theory by Sonnenwald, indicates the different sources of information and the path the user would consider traversing to fulfill an information need.

Information Visualization
The study of how to effectively present information visually through creating innovative graphical displays for complicated datasets, such as census results, scientific data, and databases. Techniques include selective hiding of data, layering data, 3-dimensional presentation etc.

Iterative design
A process where a web site progressively develops in a repeated cycle. Iteration is repeated revisions.

Liquid Design
A web page designed to re-scales to fit different resolutions and different window sizes.

The process of finding things in large or complex information spaces, such as on websites. Its purpose is to help users find the content they want quickly. There are many navigation methods to make a website easy to navigate.

Paper prototype
A paper sketch of an interface with just enough detail to make design decisions and usability evaluations relating to the function and flow of the interface, not the look.

Pluralistic Walkthrough
When groups of users, developers, and usability experts walk through a task scenario. Group walkthroughs have the advantage of providing a diverse range of skills and perspectives to bear on usability problems through interaction between the team during the walkthrough.

A partially completed mockup of your final website. Prototyping allows you to test certain parts of the final website, especially when it is incomplete. With many sites, this model can be as simple as paper-and-pencil drawings or as complex as actual working code.

Written lists of questions that differ from surveys since they are written lists, not ad hoc interviews. Often, questionnaires are used after sites are launched to assess customer satisfaction with the product. Such questionnaires often identify usability issues that should have been caught before the site goes live.

Rapid Prototyping
The process of quickly generating mock-ups of what a website will look like.

The degree to which the meaning of text is understandable, based on the complexity of sentences and the difficulty of vocabulary.

Ad hoc interviews with users, where a set list of questions is asked and the users’ responses recorded. Surveys differ from questionnaires in that they are interactive interviews, although not structured like contextual inquiries nor formally scheduled and organized like a focus group.

Task Analysis
An analysis technique of tasks performed by users on a system. Task analysis provides a way to take into consideration the environment the user performs tasks in and could range from quantitative to qualitative analysis.

Task Scenario
A representation of actual work that a user would likely perform using a website. Task scenarios are general directions for users to perform certain activities on the application.

Think Aloud
A technique that involves that the user speaks when performing a task. By thinking aloud while attempting to complete the task users explain their approach of attempting to perform the task, hence illuminating the difficulties they encounter.

The art and science of designing systems or web sites. It is different from accessibility that is aimed at making the website open to a much wider user population, whereas usability is aimed at making the website more efficient and more effective to enhance the target audience’s experience.

Usability Lab
A facility specifically for user testing, and can be portable or fixed. It is usually a quiet room with computer equipment and a place for interviewer and interviewee to test, and an observer to sit in the same room or different room equipped for observation remotely or through a one-way mirror. Usability labs are equipped with computers, software for recording the sessions, and cameras.

Usability Testing
The process of carrying out experiments to find out specific information about a design. In usability testing, representative users interact with the website (or a prototype) and the evaluators use the results to see how the user interface supports the users in doing their tasks or activities.

User Centered Design (UCD)
The design process that places the user at the center of the design rather than the object to be designed. It is a philosophy and process rather than an end in itself.

A skeleton version of a website that depicts navigational concepts and page content. It doesn’t take into account the graphics, visual design or page layout. It is a set of cross-linked pages that acts like a functional prototype of the final website.