Computer Availability Usability Testing

In mid-2015, Josephine McRobbie and Andreas Orphanides conducted a set of usability exercises with participants to gain insight into a preferable interface for a live computer availability map on an electronic billboard (e-board) at the D. H. Hill Library and on the Libraries' website. Using Jakob Nielsen’s method of discount usability testing, we interviewed three library users about their mental maps of D. H. Hill’s Learning Commons and tested two paper iterations of potential live availability maps. Users created mental maps that divided the Learning Commons into four distinct sub-areas, and we were able to use this mapping to inform our own computer availability design. Participants showed little recognition of tabs at the bottom of the prototype, expressed interest in quick recognition of spaces with available computing, and desired a simple design with less specific information about computing options.

  • Do users group open computing locations into any kind of smaller sections, and, if so, what do their cognitive groupings look like?
  • How does the current paper prototype help or hinder users making decisions about where to look for appropriate computing workstations?
  • How would users typically interact with a live computing map?
  • Are options such as operating system, software suite, and location significant to users making computing decisions, and, if so, how can we best explain and expose these options?

What We Found

First iteration:

  • Both users were able to quickly assess and describe the map and its purpose.
  • Neither user noticed tabs for EOS, GIS, and Digital Media workstations. Wouldn’t know to click on Digital Media for the Photoshop software.
  • Users would prefer to only look at display, not interact with it.
  • No name recognition for Unity Lab, despite usage by participants.
  • Users pointed out discrepancies between colored sections and where computing actually is.
  • Confusion about choice of colors to represent availability.
  • No use case to show anything left (west) of the Learning Commons except a wayfinding Ask Us logo.
  • Neither user noticed the greyed-out computers shown on first floor.
  • Once the number of available computers on upper floors drops to "few," users wouldn’t go upstairs.
  • Interest in also seeing variety of partitions or privacy dividers available in each location.

Second iteration:

  • Interest in seeing where printers are in relation to computing.
  • User was able to quickly assess and describe the map and its purpose.
  • Asked for a key to show what the color scheme means.

Recommendations and Changes

First iteration:

  • Remove interactive tabs at bottom for initial design.
  • Adjust colored blobs to more accurately depict computing areas.
  • Add information about how often the map is updated.
  • Use red/yellow/green scheme or similar to show availability of computers.
  • Simplify areas to the left of Ask Us.
  • Disinclude first-floor computing.
  • Visually represent partitions and privacy dividers available in each location.

Second iteration:

  • Add printing icons to map.
  • Include a key that explains many/few/none color scheme.
How We Did It

We solicited participants near our single service point. Participants signed up to come in at a later date for testing. One staff member facilitated the session, while the other took notes, recorded the interview, and asked occasional questions. Participants were reimbursed with $20 Amazon gift cards in exchange for 45 minutes of their time.

Participant Breakdown

3 participants

Computer availability prototype:


Study design and detailed results available upon request