The Usability/Text-to-Hypertext Project

This assignment has two related but different components.  First, we will collectively analyze and conduct a modified usability test on the Department of English Language and Literature web site and you will individually write an analysis of the site.  Second, you will develop your own web-based hypertext based on a previously written “words in a row” essay. As part of the design and development process, you will conduct a usability test from the point of view of a developer with users you find on your own, and you will also write a short reflective essay about the project.

Some of the details about the first part

  • For your role as a user or reviewer, we’ll be looking at the department web site because it matters to all of us associated with the English department and because we probably have ideas about how to make the site better. However, the main goal of this part of the assignment is to get a taste of what a usability test might look like for your project.
  • After we collectively review and discuss the site, you will individually write a short (1000 or so words) reflection that addresses both the the strengths and weaknesses of the web site. You will certainly need to draw on some of the readings to help make your point.  See the schedule for due dates on this.

Some of the details about the second part

  • The first step in the “words in a row to hypertext” web site process, selecting an appropriate starting text, is very important and potentially tricky.  By “words in a row,” I mean text that is best read on paper or as a PDF, where there is a specific order of beginning/middle/end, a text that does not have multimedia or hyperlink features, etc.  For the purposes of this assignment, I also mean a words in a row text that does not lend itself easily to conversion into hypertext.  For example, I think converting a resume into hypertext would be too easy, and generally, it’d be too short, too.  The same goes with most selections of poetry: it’s usually too short and too easy.
  • In my view, the ideal text for you to work with is a paper you wrote for a previous class because it’s probably the right length (somewhere between about 1200 and 3000 words) and because you by definition own the rights to that text.  Less than 1200 words would probably be too easy, but more than 6000 words would probably be too hard.
  • If you absolutely, positively cannot possibly use something that you wrote previously, you will need to find a selection of text that is available in the public domain.  There are a variety of ways to do this, but I would recommend searching around the text part of the Internet Archive web site.  You cannot write a new words in the row piece of writing just for this assignment! Part of the point of this assignment is to study the challenges of converting a text designed for one format/genre for a new and different one.
  • I will need to approve your words in a row text selection!  See the schedule for due dates on this, but start thinking about your choice as soon as you can!
  • Just to be clear:  by a “web-based hypertext,” I mean a a hypertextual/multimedia document meant to be used/experienced online. This web site should also be “good” based on the advice we’ll be reading about this term.  Among other things, this will mean developing a hierarchy of pages/parts of the site, images, good design and layout, possibly non-print media elements like audio and video, etc.  I clearly do not mean simply putting your words in a row text up on the web.
  • To make your web sites, you will use WordPress, Weebly, a similar sort of content management tool, or, if you have a different idea, let me know. You could make your site the “old-fashioned” way with “raw” HTML and CSS, but frankly, those sort of static web sites are so rare I wouldn’t encourage it.
  • As you make your words in a row text into a web-based hypertext, think of it a bit like transforming a book into a movie.  What I mean is you don’t have to convert every last bit of text into your web site as long as the web version more or less represents the print version.  Also, there will likely be several elements you will add to your web site that weren’t in the original print.  For example, all of your web sites will presumably have images, graphic sensibility, chunking of text, links within the text and links leaving the text to others on the web, all features not in print.
  • You will do two different kinds of usability testing for your project with at least two different users.
    • The first is a “pre-test” of sorts:  you will create a sketch or a wireframe of the site you are working on/planning and get some basic feedback.  The goal here is to help steer your project in the right direction before you get too far into it.  You will report about your pre-test usability test both in a brief (1000 word or so) essay and in class discussion.
    • The second test will involve at least two users (and it could involve more if you want) and it will follow a more formal usability testing process:  that is, your users will work with your nearly complete site, you will have a set testing protocol and set tasks for your users, and you will observe and take notes (though probably not screen capture) what your user does.
  • Ideally, you should try to find usability subjects that are roughly in your target audience. Realistically, our limitations might make that hard, so friends and family are fine.  There are two important qualifications for usability testers though: first, you have to be able to work with them in person.  This is important since actually observing what your user does is a critical part of this assignment.  Second, it can’t be anyone else in this class.
  • Finally, after all of this, you will have two significant “deliverables” from this part of the assignment to share.  First, you will have a revised based on feedback text-to-hypertext project.  Second, you will write a brief (1000-1250 word) essay where you debrief us on your experiences working with usability testers, how that experienced matched up (or didn’t!) with our readings, and what you learned from the whole exercise.

3 Responses to The Usability/Text-to-Hypertext Project

  1. Scott says:

    I may be getting a little ahead here, but I want to start thinking of the design for my Text-to-Hypertext Project/Website. Is the final product supposed to be similar to a visually heavy Kairos Journal-like project (http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/)?

    • Steve Krause says:

      You mean like the articles in Kairos? Maybe, sorta.

      I don’t want to get too far ahead on this either, so let me just say this for now:

      Part of the purposeful challenge of this assignment is how do you take a text that is meant only to be read as “words in a row” on a page and transform it into a hypertextual document meant only to be read online, be it through a browser or even through a device like a smart phone? In my way of thinking about it, it’s sort of like making a book or a short story into a movie: there are similarities of course, but there are big differences too. For example, you will have to do something to account for the potential of non-linear reading order. Another obvious example is that the things we read online/on devices tend to be graphically rich in some fashion too.

      The other part of the assignment (eg, the reason I’m doing this) is about your own personal rounds of usability testing. What is the experience for you like to go from “mock up” drawing that you show someone to a web site that you then revise based on a second round of feedback? What did you learn from doing something along the lines of what Krug and Redish are describing?

      I don’t know if that helps or not, but I guess what I’m saying is the answer to your question is kind of “yes, and….”

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