I completed the MS in HCI at Depaul with my last class being an independent study to build a tool for testing/researching navigation and how people acquire/find information from them. Actually, I have been researching this for the last year on and off so this was in a way more of a culmination of thoughts and reading. The main outcome was the development of a web based tool that could be used to present tasks to a user and collect data as they interact with a menu navigation system. Ultimately, the project was a continuation of Dr. Craig Miller’s research into how users conceptually navigate a hierarchical menu structure. He had developed several prototypes that used java and flat text files to present the data.
As with most academic endeavors of this kind I, the student, started with a fairly broad goal and needed to narrow it down. However, my goal was not exactly the same as Dr. Miller’s as I wanted and still want a general purpose tool that could be used for a variety of research activities related to testing website navigation and usability. Where as he and another researcher are seeking to better understand the conceptual model of users as they learn a menu and find information organized in that menu. For me, my practical work experience has lead me to see the need for an easy to use tool to help better organize/prepare complex menus for websites, especially after a site has launched. So I am first assisting Dr. Miller and the other researchers in developing a tool that will work for their testing, but also I am trying to develop it in a way that I can use to do basic testing of web usability in general.
I have produced a prototype tool and released it as an open source project. It can be found at the address below. It is in alpha (or even pre-alpha) phase so any recommendations, thoughts, or contributions will be welcomed.
The project was written in PHP and uses a MySQL back-end. There is a demo and you can download the source plus the setup files from the site. If you have questions you can contact me via the project site. Essentially, the UI Nav Test tool is a very stripped down CMS with features for presenting tasks to a research participant and it also has a basic reporting page and allows the researcher to download the raw data for further analysis. While the appearance is very basic, this is intentional. As the purpose is to identify problems with labels and organization, not whether something looks pretty or not. The demo is set to use one of Dr. Miller’s content domains which is focused on understanding how people conceptualize the navigation steps they will take to find items.