User Heuristic Evalution

Executive Summary

Website usability dictates whether a user will be successful in achieving their goals. Websites are in control of relaying information to the user. Using seven heuristics from Jakob Neilson, I evaluated James Madison University’s Library website to find flaws within the design and interface. I ranked these issues and explained each problem and then offered design suggestions to asses these problems.

The biggest problem I encountered while evaluating the JMU Library page was consistency and standards. Each page was set up entirely different and designed completely different utilizing different typefaces in an unorganized manner, which made it the website non-functional. Other issues encountered include “visibility of system status”, “matching between the system and the real world”, “error prevention”, “recognition rather than recall”, “aesthetics and minimalist design”, and “help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from error.” More is explained about my findings in the results.

Overall, this research has made it very evident that the James Madison University library webpage is not functional in the way it should be for everyday users, including faculty, staff, and students. Users have difficulty understanding the website navigation, how to use certain features within the site, and it is overly complicated and cluttered with too much information. Below I have listed design suggestions that designers may address from the most severe to least severe to solve some of the issues this website presents. James Madison University has a lot of resources it wants to offer for students and staff to take advantage of and is hindering the ability of many to be able to do so because of design complications.



The purpose of this evaluation is to determine the usability of the James Madison University Library website. To do this, I inspected the home page to first get an understanding and a feel for how the website is set up and designed. After examining the home page, I moved on to the Ask The Library page, which seems to be important as it is a main feature on the site. Moving on to the JMU Library Catalog, which is very outdated, along with the rest of the website, there are many options that make it overwhelming for the user. Lastly, I navigated to the Equipment Loans page. Fortunately, I knew what this mean before clicking on it, but the pictures associated with the option links are very outdated and not relatable to today’s generation.

After trying to navigate my way through this website, it is clear as to why JMU needs students to take the MREST, a test freshman must pass their freshman year on campus that stresses how to use the JMU Library website and how to find resources within the Library. If this website was more clear to the user, James Madison University would not have to require first year students to watch tutorial websites on how to use their website.

If James Madison University were to put time and money into redesigning their Library website to make it straightforward, concise, and understandable to the average user, students and faculty would be capable of conducting better research, would motivate more students to utilize the resources offered to them at JMU, and aid students in their academics. James Madison University would improve students’ experience by allowing them to take advantage of everything that is provided to them and could potentially inspire more students to connect with their education at a higher rate. Faculty and staff here at JMU wouldn’t have to take time out of their lectures to explain to students how find resources to conduct research, how to navigate the library website for materials they might need for class, and they could better utilize the available materials for a more hands on experience within their classroom.

As much as this generation’s students are very interactive with websites and the internet, they, as much as anyone else, do not want to take time to try to process an overload of information and navigate through endless pages to find what they need. Students live busy lives between classes, extra-circulars, staying active, and having a healthy social life. Universities should understand this and use their income resources effectively as possible to enhance their students and faculties experiences on campus.

In this evaluation, I will explain my methods of determining the usability of the JMU Library website and take note of what could be improved.



During this process, I evaluated different aspects of the website using seven of the ten heuristics by Jacob Neilson including visibility of system status; matching between system and real world; consistency and standards; error prevention; recognition rather than recall; aesthetics and minimalist design; and help users recognize, diagnose, and recover form error. Then, I rated the issues I found on a severity scale between one and four, with four being the worst. Different areas I explored include the quick search, library catalog, ask the library, and equipment loans.

Design Suggestions

After rating my findings, consistency and standards seemed to be the biggest problem to tackle. Because of the inconsistency, it is hard for the user to stay focused and clearly and easily find what they are looking for. To begin to address these issues, you could start with choosing the same typeface for all pages on the website and adjusting font sizes and choose other types within the family to make a clear visual hierarchy for the user. Since the navigation menus are unclear to which is primary, that should be adjusted by making it larger and more noticeable and having it either across the top or down the left side of the page. Once this has been done, the drop-down menus should be condensed because there are too many options to choose from, which overwhelms the user.

The next heuristic to address would be the aesthetics and minimalist design. There seemed to be many problems within this area. Because the type that was chosen, it is hard to focus on what the website is trying to communicate to the user. Humans read words by their shapes, not the individual letters that make the shape of the word. When this is an issue, users do not want to try to decipher what could be made simple.  The use of all the JMU colors started with a good intention but was so overdone it became distracting. There was also no repetition with the design and use of colors that created a weird contrast on the page making things more difficult than they already were. JMU could also change their logo for the library home page. Putting the word “libraries” next to the JMU logo just looks unprofessional and out of place.

Matching between system and the real world is another important heuristic to consider. Although this only has one example from a page within the website, it is a problem because most users aren’t going to recognize half of the equipment on the site to rent out because the products are outdated, and they won’t know if what they are looking for is actually there.

Error prevention is another heuristic to address because there are no suggestions to users. When users are looking for something within a website, they want to find it as easily and painlessly as possible. To do this, there would need to be suggestions available when using the quick search.

Recognition rather than recall and help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from needs to be addressed at some point as well. To do this, the quick search should offer more relevant search results and when errors are encountered, a suggestion on how to fix it should pop up for the user.

The least important heuristic is visibility of system status. This can easily be addressed by changing the colors of the links once they have been clicked on to let users understand more easily where they have been or haven’t been while navigating the site.

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