Heuristics?

Well, it’s a weird word, which of course meant I had to google it. Admittedly this didn’t really help at first, and I had to read quite a bit before I started really understanding the concept. In the end I THINK it boils down to being an approach to problem solving. There are various sets of heuristics that we’ve been asked to look at, they are focused around usability and interface design: Error prevention, aesthetics, learnability. The list is long! It seems to me that these are just different angles to scrutinise an interface in search of flaws. To get a complete list of flaws with an interface using heuristics, I would need many hours to systematically go through and try every feature, specifically considering every different heuristic. Even then, I’ve only discovered any flaws that arise from my style of usage, based on my habits and biases. There may be a plethora of different styles and biases that I don’t know that I don’t know!

Exercise 1 – Usability of stuff I Use

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My Blue RFID Key

The exercise asked for us to pick 3 interfaces, a mix between physical and digital ones, and to write up what works and what does not, including some suggestions for improvement. When initially tackling the exercise I think I over-complicated the scope, which was why I started researching heuristics, in stead of just diving into analysing the interfaces with my prior knowledge. I spent too much time researching beforehand, and writing a quite in depth analysis of my blue keyfob. As a result I only finished writing about that one interface, though I also started writing about the Steam Storefront.


Assignment 1 – Interface Analysis and Evaluation

A look at the usability of selected aspects of the Steam storefront

I did a lot of reading for the assignment, and spent even more time choosing which heuristics and which parts of the interface to include in the analysis. Between lectures and labs I started making notes on what I thought might be relevant issues. I had to cut down my scope several times as I realised how much I could write on just one small part of the interface. I had to eliminate from my assessment anything that would fall under a marketing strategy rather than interface design. I realised that my initial interest in the steam discovery update was something that crossed several other disciplines. This realisation made me a little demotivated, as I realised I wouldn’t be reaching the full conclusion I initially hoped for with the assignment. I also had to eliminate any feature that was too deeply entangled in other steam features, direct links to game pages, the search box and the hundreds of various buttons on the storefront were axed from the analysis. Eventually I narrowed down the features I wanted to analyse down to three sections that work on a similar basis, and are the three major screen space elements of the storefront. Featured and Recommended, Special Offers, and Trending Among Friends.

Findings

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Some suggested edits to the Featured & Reccommended

I was expecting to find a lot of good elements on the steam storefront, especially with recent updates and improvements. To my surprise, I found a lot of issues. The sotrefront uses at least 7 different shades of blue, with greens, black, white and greys mixed in. There’s at least 3 different fonts, and several more different font sizes. If there were design guidelines internally in Steam’s design team, they weren’t followed. Despite this being glaringly obvious once I started looking for it, I had never really noticed it before. I discussed this some with Amber, when we had both finished assignment 1. She agreed that several of the issues we found, had not bothered us before analysing our respective interfaces (she analysed Trello), but now we’re both noticing them more easily and being annoyed by such now obvious flaws.

There are undoubtedly a lot of good things about the steam storefront, it’s certainly improved in recent years too. The recommendations are much more relevant to my preferences, and I’m far more likely to discover, and thus buy, things I would not have found otherwise. But man, it could really do with a bit more polish here and there!
If you’re interested in reading the whole 11 pages, you’ve clearly got too much time on your hands or you’re a Valve employee, but I’ve made it available here.

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