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I am reviewing a client website. Usually I will find plenty wrong and will be able to highlight issues and recommend solutions. The problem with this particular project is that the website is actually very good and has nothing much wrong with it.

How should I structure* my report? What recommendations can I make? Have you come across a similar problem when you review websites?

*My reports are usually based on a 12 section evaluation adapted from Nielsen's usability heuristics.

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6 Answers 6

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The overview is the hardest part to write because you need to have done all the work of the other parts to write it. In the overview you should be up front about saying that it is a good site, and be brief but specific about what makes it good - so that it does not come over as flannel. Being specific also makes a statement about the work you have done in assessing the site, right from the start.

  • Be sure you have indeed been systematic in looking at the site. That's the key thing that differentiates what you've done from casual clicking around. You want to have checked out recovery with lost-password, delivery to addresses other than the cardholder address, duplicate submission of the same order, overseas orders, know the strengths and weaknesses of any built-in search (in as far as such features are relevant to this site).
  • Easily overlooked - do some assessment of what happens if a service the site relies on is slow or down. Could easily happen as the site gains traction. You may need to talk with the site developers about this as you may not be able to assess this just from visiting the site. Does the site degrade gracefully and communicate clearly with the user?

You asked:

"How should I structure my report?"

If you have written terms of reference (write some for future contracts if you haven't) you can base the structure on that.

If not, start with your overview, even if you have to write it last, and then use chronology (roughly the order of development) as your organizing principle. Likely a review of the ease of placing an order will come earlier in your report than review of special-offer screens or overall site structure.

"What recommendations can I make?"

These will come out of the individual review sections. Formal user testing, and proceeding towards launch if there are no glaring problems are perfectly good recommendations. You don't need to clutter your report with unnecessary recommendations.

If you do find some problems, be sure to end your recommendations with some statement of something that is genuinely good about the site.

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I like the suggestions in the indented paragraphs. To do an expert review well, you've really got to 'do detail': people will stick 'o's not zeros in postcodes; people will put credit card numbers in with weird numbers of spaces - error messages on a good site will help people figure out what the problem is rather than just leave them scratching their heads. –  PhillipW May 23 '11 at 21:16

Whenever I come across a website that I personally have trouble finding anything wrong with, my gut reaction is to get very suspicious. I'm also usually not the target audience. So my next step would be to recommend getting some real feedback from actual users in order to validate and hopefully disprove my opinion.

In terms of structuring your report, I would include a recommendation in your conclusion that makes clear that while you found little wrong, your opinion is only that of an expert, and real, objective feedback will come in the form of a usability test (which you can assist with conducting, perhaps).

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yep, user testing is the next step. –  colmcq May 23 '11 at 10:57

Use your heuristic evaluation to go a step beyond finding and fixing problems. You have the perfect opportunity here to thoroughly explore the solution space by thinking in terms of trade-offs. This will help formulate clear hypotheses for the next stage, and can be beneficial further in the design process. You'll have to communicate very clearly to your client on what you're doing though.

Take a text description in a help text for example. A possible trade-off here is between short text aimed at the general public, and long and detailed text for domain experts. This gives you two conflicting 'issues': text is not detailed enough and text is too detailed, depending on the perspective you take. Adding an extra feature or shortcut is another example: adds complexity, but at the same time it allows for new actions.

Another way to help find more issues is to focus on the specific needs of your different personas. For every persona, aim for the perfect interface for them, and you'll often find that what works for some users is unnecessary or worse for others.

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"You'll have to communicate very clearly to your client on what you're doing though." Absolutely, my only fear is that they expect a site review and don't want anything else...so while development of personas is certainly do-able, I suspect the client won't budge... –  colmcq May 23 '11 at 13:35

Good points by Marielle and Rahul. My additional advice would be: If the conclusion actually is that a section/structure etc. should not be changed, be honest about it. There's nothing worse than a review trying to find stuff that's wrong when there actually isn't anything wrong.

This reminds me of this story: Some Michelin execs didn't like their very well known Michelin Man anymore so they hired a big brand consulting company and paid millions - only to hear that they should absolutely not change their mascot. Did they spend money for nothing? Decide for yourself but IMO they didn't - it was still cheaper than actually doing the rebranding and lose the brand value. Disclaimer: I have no idea if this really happend.

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this rings a bell.... –  colmcq May 23 '11 at 13:26
2  
Good advice. It's sometimes easy to forget to include the positives in a usability report, especially when you're probably expected to "go and find the problems". They should be written up in proportion to the negatives, of course, but if something is genuinely more good than bad, then say so. In my experience, that can make the dev team even more keen to fix the remaining bad parts, in comparison to a report that just lists "100 reasons why your app sucks". –  scottishwildcat May 23 '11 at 15:39

If it has any interactive components at all (user registration; contact forms etc) play dumb and either miss out requested information or try registering with an already existing username.

I normally find some 'room for improvement' with the wording of error messages.

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talking of which, I've just been onto their online event booking system....I have hear the term usability catastrophe bandied about but have never had to use it...until now. –  colmcq May 23 '11 at 14:32

If you've carefully conducted your evaluation and your judgement is that the website in question doesn't have much wrong with it, I think that's a perfectly valid conclusion. Giving out an "A+" grade might be rare in usability evaluations, perhaps, but it's still possible.

Perhaps your concern is that basically saying "Looks good to me" would make for a pretty short and unconvincing report?

If it were my website that were being reviewed, I'd want to know the reasoning behind the evaluation. The ten or twelve usability heuristics, being general principles, are probably pretty vague (and intentionally so), which means different evaluators could easily have different interpretations or perceptions and thus they might find, or not find, different problems in a product. So I'd want to know more specifically what criteria you're using to evaluate the website, and then you can explain how the website stacks up against those criteria. And then even if the website rates well in some area and you can't identify any problems, you might have the opportunity to mention possible alternatives to consider.

For example, you might praise the website's use of accelerator keys to improve efficiency for expert users and you might say that choice of accelerator keys is logical, but you could suggest changing the accelerators to be consistent with, I don't know, say, WordStar (because that's what most of the users are familiar with).

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I think this is the approach to take –  colmcq May 24 '11 at 15:35

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