Lab studies ease-of-use factor for local IT

Waikato University has set up a lab aimed at making software and hardware easier to use.

Waikato University has set up a lab aimed at making software and hardware easier to use.

The usability lab, which is available for commercial organisations, is fitted with video recording equipment, systems for logging keystrokes and scanners that monitor where on a screen a user is looking and for how long. Users are also interviewed and fill out qualitative pre- and post-task questionnaires.

Current studies involve work on the university’s digital library system and a project on large screens.

Mark Apperley, a professor in the department of computer science, says the lab facilities match most of those that exist outside New Zealand. The university is currently charging out lab time at $200 an hour ex GST.

A study is also being done for software company Intaz, which is taking an existing client-server software product, SafeTnet, for documenting and reporting health and safety measures in the workplace and redeveloping it for the web.

About 70 companies throughout New Zealand, the biggest being Woolworths, use SafeTnet.

“Organisations can run it internally but for a lot of small companies we provide a bureau service and each month generate reports they need,” says Intaz programme manager Les Trimnell. “We currently have the servers sitting on our premises but we want to drive down the cost and have someone else host it for us.”

He says the company identified that the web user interface had to be different to the current Windows version because of issues with data throughput via the web and the amount of data which can presented through a browser.

The Waikato lab conducted a six-week usability project on the software, and interviewed the Intaz R&D director and Woolworths users. It looked at how the current product works, what users like and dislike and considered the way in which the product would be used in a web-based application. At the end of a month Intaz got a style guide with recommendations on the look and feel of the new interface, which the parties are now discussing.

“We’re more than pleased with the way they’ve gone about collecting the information, interviewing users, and coming up with a suggested solution,” says Trimnell. “They’ve tried to come up with an interface which serves both expert and simple levels of user.”

He estimates that about 10% of the software development effort has been spent on the user interface.