Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Contextual Usability Framework for a Mobile Computing Environment

I read this article on the Journal of Usability Studies that was published in May 2011. You may be interested to learn about this framework:

The work of several scholars (Bevan & Macleod, 1994; Shami et al., 2005; Thomas & Macredie, 2002) who attempted to identify additional variables that may impact usability and subsequently adoption, led to the conceptual emergence of context of use (herein referred to as context)as it relates to usability, also referred to as contextual usability. Several frameworks encapsulating context have been proposed (Han et al., 2001; Lee & Benbasat, 2003; Sarker & Wells, 2003; Tarasewich, 2003; Yuan & Zheng, 2005). While there may be other usability frameworks that attempt to capture the essence of context, the models cited here provide a representative set of work in this area. From these we adapted the framework proposed by Han et al. (2001) because it offers considerable detail for each dimension they identified.

On the basis of the discussion on approaches to usability evaluation and the framework proposed by Han et al. (2001) and Kwahk and Han (2002), we propose a contextual usability framework for a mobile computing environment. The framework is depicted in Figure 1 and contains three elements. First, the outer circle shows the four contextual factors (i.e., User, Technology, Task/Activity, and Environment) described earlier as impacting usability. Second, the inner circle shows the key usability dimensions (i.e., Effectiveness, Efficiency, Satisfaction, Learnability, Flexibility, Attitude, Operability, etc.). Third, the box on the top of contextual factors shows a list of consequences (i.e., improving systems integration, increasing adoption, retention, loyalty, and trust, etc.).

Compared to the framework proposed by Han et al. (2001) and Kwahk and Han (2002), there are several advantages of the suggested mobile usability framework. Although the previous frameworks proposed by Han et al. (2001) and Kwahk and Han (2002) are comprehensive, they are difficult to follow due to formation and evaluation dimensions being merged into one diagram. Thus, the suggested framework depicted in Figure 1 represents a simple yet direct way to identify and address the various contextual mobile usability dimensions. In addition, with its central focus on usability, it offers specific guidance on the implementation of any interface/interaction project along with potential outcomes.

In addition, two modifications are introduced in terms of nomenclature for mobile contextual usability. First, “Technology” replaces “Product,” as this term helps conceive the system that a user may interact with a greater set of components, instead of simply the device or application itself. One example of this is found in the case of mobile usability where the inclusion of the wireless network is likely in addition to the mobile device (i.e., the product) when studying usability of a mobile product or service. Because mobile usability is mainly related to mobile technology, which continually improves the limitations of mobile interfaces and its applications, the technological factor of a mobile usability framework is an important and unique component that needs to be taken care of. Second, “Task/Activity” replaces “Activity,” as the former term appears more commonly in usability literature when describing the nature of users’ interaction with the technology. In addition, a list of consequences of usability was added to the framework as an output of usability evaluations.

These four variables (i.e., user, task/activity, environment, technology) were used for the presentation of the qualitative review of previous empirical research3 that relates to the usability assessment of mobile applications and/or mobile devices. The benefit of using these variables for the literature review is found in both the structure it provides for the discussion to follow, as well as to help highlight any areas that are lacking investigation.


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