I recently wrote about 9 well designed, usable websites, and what makes them great. Gmail, as one of my personal favorites, and a site many people love featured in the list, because I think it really is a truly useful, usable website. I was quite surprised to see in the comments a number of people saying that they simply couldn’t agree with Gmail as a pick.
This leads to the issue of finding a subjective method for deciding which webmail system is best. How? Read on to find out.
Making a decision: which is best?
Of course, all of our views are subjective, and it seems the fairest way to decide is to run an impartial test on between some of the most popular webmail services.
Rather than colouring the results with our own biases, this article will be broken into two parts: Round one is the testing process, and getting feedback from users, and round two will be the summary of results and what we think should or could be done differently.
So see below for the testing process, the test itself, and how it all works. Hopefully you can learn a little more about the usability testing and how it can help you too.
Part One: The Testing Process
The testing process is very straight forward. There is a brief test at video.intuitionhq.com/email-face-off which should take around 3 minutes to complete – you can read about the testing process, or just head on over to take the test now.
You will be presented with a series of tasks (17 total in this example), and all you need to do is click where ever you think is the right place. For example, you might be asked with the following image, ‘Where do you need to click to sign up’:
This is obviously a very straight forward example, but if you imagine when you have a site or UI with important features that people can’t find, or aren’t in their expected place things might not be as usable as they should be.
Another example might be ‘Click where you’d expect to return to the home page’ with a grid to click on:
This grid can then be overlaid over a design to see if the perception and reality of the design are the same thing:
In this example, most users would probably click in the top right hand area, either aiming at the logo (which commonly links back to the home page) or the home tab. This is a common convention these days, and it generally pays to follow it.
Not following conventions means people have to relearn. Imagine someone swapped the position of the shift and delete keys – you would be frustrated that after learned the original location (the traditional location of the enter key) that someone changed things around. Consider that when creating your sites and contemplating usability.
Of course, every great site doesn’t have to follow conventions, but there should be a good reason for ignoring them. Conventions and expected behaviour generally do help improve usability.
At the end of the test, a nice heatmap is generated (for the test creator to see) showing where people clicked, and how long it took them (not shown here), so you can judge what is or isn’t working properly, as per the example below:
In this example, you can see 87% of people clicked the correct button, and a few random clicks as might be expected as this is a demo test page we like to show people, but all in all most people get the exact right place. Of course, if we’d asked people how to preview a test and they clicked publish instead, we might need to make some changes.
So, what next?
Head on over to video.intuitionhq.com/email-face-off and take the test. Help us figure out just which webmail service is the best, most usable among them. Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments about the different services and testing process too.
We’ll be writing about the results shortly, and how we think these sites can improve, and what they’ve done right, so watch this space.
And if there are any other categories of sites you’d like us to see in a usability face off, be sure to let us know in the comments.
Jacob is a usability geek at IntuitionHQ.com - a new, quick, easy to use usability service from Boost New Media. When he's not indulging his passion for the internet, he is probably bloging about China and Chinese learning (having spent three years there) at Sinomatter.com. You can find him on twitter talking about usability @intuitionhq.