Usability studies are a great way to learn about a user’s behavior when using a product. This semester, I have been working on a mock redesign of a local publication on the East End of Long Island, called Riverhead Local. The publication offers a way for subscribers to get a newsletter, but it also provides users with news through its website, RiverheadLocal.com.

While I love the news that is produced by its very talented team, I chose to use RiverheadLocal.com for my mock redesign because the site seems dated in terms of layout.

I have my opinions of the design. For example, the double navigation at the top with super redundancy and inconsistent links opening in or out of the main frame is annoying. The site’s ability to show one story “above the fold” is also a peeve of mine because if I am looking for news, I want to see the top stories without scrolling.

Several studies throughout the semester, including card sorting, surveys, diary studies and interviews, have opened my eyes to what other users think of the RiverheadLocal.com site. While some people have similar opinions of the site, others think the site is functional and does its job, therefore, it is fine.

The usability study I conducted investigated the flow and navigability of the site.

To do the study, I recruited three participants who have never been to RiverheadLocal.com from my pool of family and friends and had them go through a series of five tasks that I created. Two of the participants were out of state and one lives in my house. I was able to conduct a face-to-face study with the person I live with, but due to COVID-19 “stay-in-place” orders, I had to conduct tests with the two users out of state using Zoom.

Through Zoom, I was able to share my computer screen and have the participants go through each of the tasks I gave them. Those tasks were as follows:

Task 1 – It looks like you do not have plans this weekend. Rather than sitting at home and being bored, you want to find something to do on Sunday, April 26, to get out of the house. Try to see if the website can help.

Task 2 – You like the news coverage that Riverhead Local provides on the website. With an understanding that the people gathering the news collect a paycheck for their efforts, you want to find a way to support the publication. How would you do this on the website?

Task 3 – You were out and about in Riverhead on Tuesday, March 31, when you came across an accident where an officer was injured on Osborn Avenue.  You were concerned about what you saw and turned to the RiverheadLocal.com site for answers. Go through the site and tell me what you find. Was there a follow up of some sort? When was it and what happened?

Task 4 – Many places are closed because of the COVID-19 outbreak, including several restaurants. But many restaurants have decided to at least serve their food during these times, by way of carry out. This Saturday, you and your partner want to grab food from your favorite BBQ joint, Maple Tree BBQ. Find a way to use the website to find out if they are serving food that day, and from what time to what time.

Task 5 – You recently heard that somewhere around 20 percent of Long Island residents may have already been exposed to COVID-19 but found it unbelievable. While doing some research yourself, you decide to check out what Katie Morosky of Riverhead Local wrote on the matter this week. What did you find?

Each participant was able to complete the tasks at hand, though some proved to be more difficult than others. For example, Task 3 was a challenge to two of the participants because they thought the story should appear under “News,” not “Police.” One user took 11 minutes to complete the task, while another took just over 4 minutes. Task 4 was also challenging to some. Some users wanted to go to business to see what was open during the coronavirus outbreak. Afterward, users said it would be helpful if the Coronavirus bar popped a little more, so it was eye-catching.

But not everything was difficult. Tasks 1 and 2 were very simple for users. Task one had them find an event and task 2 had them find a way to support the publication.

As a result of conducting this study, I found that what may be easy to me may not be so easy for everyone else. Two of the participants were between the age of 50 and 70 years old and may not have been as tech-savvy as the third participant, who was between 40 and 50.

If I were to do this study again, I may have chosen a few people in the younger demographic to get a better idea of what they think about the current RiverheadLocal.com site.

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