Kara Van Malssen is Partner and Managing Director for Consulting at AVP. Kara works with clients to bridge the technical, human, and business aspects of projects. Kara has supported numerous organizations with DAM selection and implementation, metadata modeling and schema development, and taxonomy development, and user experience design efforts.
This series shares exercises that can offer a way to gain insight into how your users’ are likely to browse, search, discover, interpret, and use information assets. Catch up on Part 1 here.
EXERCISE 2. UNDERSTAND HOW USERS SEARCH AND BROWSE
To understand how our users might search or browse for assets, and design accordingly, we need to observe them. There are a couple of ways to better understand your users’ search behaviors, depending on what stage of development your system is in.
Option A — Starting from scratch
If you don’t have an existing system, you can simply ask people how they might try to find something.
1.Identify one asset that you will use for all of your tests. This should be something that is fairly unique to your collection. You need to have the actual resource in hand (physically or virtually) for your tests, not just a written label. People need to see it.
2. Identify at least 5 participants for the study — more doesn’t hurt, but you don’t need more than 12 for this to be effective. As above, participants should represent the different user types you are targeting.
3. .Ask participants to imagine they have seen this image before, and they need to find it again. Next ask them to provide 3-5 search terms they might use to locate it. You can repeat with a few more assets.
4. Repeat this for each participant.
5. Synthesize the results and identify patterns.
Below are the results of search term exercise. Repeating this exercise with several more testers will reveal common search patterns, as well as interesting outliers.
This exercise is best done individually rather than in groups, as search is a very individualized activity. Give people at least 2 minutes per asset.
You will find that there are some terms that all or nearly all participants will provide — this is a good indicator of the types of tags that must be associated with the assets for search to work well for your users. Make sure your metadata schema, taxonomy, and data entry guidelines support these! You may also find some unexpected terms or ways of searching that you had not considered.
Option B — Testing with an existing system
If you already have a system in place, you can conduct actual task-based usability tests to see how people search and find assets.
1.As above, identify a group of study participants that represent your different target user groups (a few per group). Aim for a minimum of 5 participants, up to 12 or so.
2. If you are meeting in person, sit next to the user while they navigate your site. If you are meeting remotely, ask participants to screenshare.
3. Give the user two different prompts to try:
- One prompt should allow participants to explore the site for something that suits their needs. For instance, “You are working on a campaign about [some topic]. Find three assets that might be suitable.
- Another prompt should have a correct answer. You can use a similar approach to that described in option A above, for instance, “Imagine you have seen this asset before. Please find it again.”
4. Ask participants to “think aloud” as they go about the test.
When conducting a usability test like this, your role is to facilitate and observe. Be careful not to guide, correct, or give suggestions. Only when the person is finished with the task should you ask questions.
You will notice that some people only search, some people only browse based on thematic groupings and filters, and some people do a combination. For the second prompt, consider the behaviors of people who find the asset, and those who don’t. Notice when multiple users run into the same road blocks over and over vs. when everyone succeeds easily. This can help you prioritize what is working well vs. what needs work.
In the final part we'll talk about understanding what users need to know about an asset.