ALA.org: a Usability Study

For my week 5 part 2 assignment, which is conducting a usability test on an LIS-related web site, I chose the WLA’s (Washington Library Association) site.  The five most prominent usability issues I found with this site were its layout/structure, colors, organization, lack of images, and some link errors.  I picked this site because I am a library employee in the state of Washington and have had to navigate this site numerous times as a past member.

The first usability issue I found with this web site was it’s layout or structure.  There are navigation links on the very top left of the page for links such as Home and Register and there are more links across the top of the entire page just below the page banner for About Us and Membership.  I remember my first time visiting this page and thinking that the links at the top left of the page could have been incorporated with the links below the banner or even on the left side of the screen in a navigation sidebar.  This would make navigation of the site easier than having to keep scanning the page for the correct link and wondering which one would take me to the page I wanted.

The second usability issue I found with the WLA’s web site was the colors they used in the foreground and for the background.  The colors are more muted than I think they need to be and the font color used could be changed to make more of a contrast for easier reading, especially since the font and background colors look very close in hue.  The content is hard to scan and the contrast level is so low that the font almost blends into the background.

The third usability issue I found was the site’s overall organization.  The home page is maximizing it’s use of scannable information by using concise sentences after its first header and then an unordered bullet list of organizational values and a statement regarding their advocacy for library issues in Washington State, but it has one link below the banner for Legislation and does not showcase the organization’s advocacy initiatives.  If the mouse is held over this link, then four other links are displayed from a drop-down menu: State Bills of Interest, Library Legislative day, Legislative Planning Committee, and Fact Sheets & Issues Brief.  The site would seem better organized if those four areas of advocacy were made prominent parts of the homepage’s content for an organization that is focused in on library advocacy.  Instead there are two separate links related to organizational membership on the homepage, one for becoming a new member and another for renewing one’s membership.  This leads me to believe the site is more focused in on collecting membership dues rather than on advocacy of library issues.

The fourth usability issue I found with the WLA’s website was the lack of images or pictures.  I navigated throughout most of the site and did not find one image other than the image in the site’s banner and the logos for different conferences.  From what I read for this week’s course content about usability, images are important because it helps give an organization’s website more credibility, especially with regard to images of those individuals that are affiliated with the site, for instance the CEO of a company.  Also, related to credibility, the web site does not have it’s address prominently posted on the homepage.  The WLA’s physical address may be found by clicking on the contact link, however many large organizations post it on the bottom of every page as part of their footer.  This is not the case on the WLA’s web site.

The fifth and final usability issue I found with this site is that some links do not work.  One link I clicked on, ‘Recent Blogs’, on one of their upcoming conference pages is not clickable, 2010 WALE Conference.  This could be because their are no blog postings related to event as yet, but then why is there not a note relaying this fact or a link available to make a blog post, allowing a user to actually create the first blog post for their next conference?  Also, another link that does not work is the Keynote Speakers link.  This page is not found and the conference is scheduled for the middle of this October.

In summary, the WLA’s web site has usability issues with its layout/structure, colors, organization, lack of images, and some link errors.  I will share these issues with the organization via their contact information on their site, they might actually benefit from my constructive criticism.  I feel obligated to do so since I recently renewed my membership, which was easy since the homepage had multiple links. 🙂

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