SI 622: Needs assessment and usability evaluation (Winter term)

SI 622 is currently recruiting clients who would like a free, high-quality usability assessment of their website, app, or software product! If you would like to obtain a free, high-quality usability assessment of your website or software product, please submit a proposal for a SI 622 course project. If a student group chooses you as a client, they will perform a series of usability evaluations and give you detailed, actionable feedback on the usability of your product.

What is SI 622?

SI 622 is a master's-level human-computer interaction (HCI) course taught at the University of Michigan School of Information. The course is offered each year during the Winter semester from January through April and is focused on a semester-long project: Groups of 4-5 students select a software system or service to study and conduct a series of formal evaluations and analyses, generating professional reports and recommendations along the way.

Why should I suggest a project?

You should suggest an SI 622 project if you’d like to receive detailed, objective feedback on the usability and usefulness of your product. UMSI students are extremely talented and motivated, and they will work hard to produce information of high value to your organization. In addition, by working with students, you will get to know particular students you might want to work with while also letting the larger UMSI student body know of your organization -- UMSI graduates around 180 masters students each year, and there is a lot of word of mouth about potential employers. Many of our clients have hired students as part-time help during the school year, interns over the summer, or full-time employees after graduation. UMSI students make great employees!

Ideal projects/clients

SI 622 requires that students have access to a software system to evaluate as well as the ability to work with current or potential users of the system. Therefore, we prefer to engage with clients that have (1) a website, mobile app, or software product that has already been launched to the public, and (2) access to a base of actual or prospective users (40 minimum). The client should be willing to put the student group with users, or otherwise provide contact information for them. (In the latter case, students will contact the participants directly, and participant privacy will be carefully protected.) If the product is not free, we will ask that free versions be made available to the student group and study participants for the duration of the course.

We are willing to work with organizations who do not satisfy the above criteria as long as the goals of the class can be met. For example, password-protected websites, pre-launch/alpha/beta products, and licensed software are possible candidates, provided that adequate student access can be provided during for the duration of the course. Software that is undergoing active development during the student project can be assessed, provided that core functionality is complete by January and students are provided stable versions when they need. A specific user list may not be required for products for which it is easy to find actual or potential users.

Past projects have included large, web products with online commerce including Dominos, Quicken Loans, IBM, and YouTube, and smaller start up projects. However, the products need to be able to support a full gamut of user experience techniques for the students' output to be valuable, so projects will be selected accordingly. 

We do not work with organizations requiring that students sign NDAs. Students need to be able to discuss the product with their instructors and classmates. If you have questions about whether your website, app, or software product is appropriate for SI 622, please contact us (see below).

What to expect

More specifically, groups will need support from their client in the following ways:

  1. Initial Interview (Jan. 18 - Jan. 22): An initial 1-hour interview to clarify details of the system, user population, and goals for the project. This must be conducted during the week of Jan. 18 - Jan. 22
  2. System Access (by Jan. 25): If accounts are required and/or a sandbox needs to be created, students will need to have full access to the site (or at least the portions you want evaluated) no later than Jan. 25.
  3. Help Recruiting Users: In many cases, it will be desirable for the client contact to provide students will access to existing users if at all possible.

There are three assignments that require recruiting users, and the client may be asked to assist in different ways.

  • User Interviews (Jan. 18 - Feb. 8): Students will need to conduct 5 interviews with either current or potential users between Jan. 18 and Feb. 8. Whether to target current or potential users is a decision to be worked out between clients and students, but if current users are to be chosen students will need the client's help to contact them to arrange interviews.
  • Survey (Feb. 1 - Feb. 24): Students will conduct a survey and may need help distributing survey invitations to existing users. If potential users are to be targeted, they may need advice on how to reach them. In the past, some clients have provided students with a customer list or with permission to send email to an existing list, while other clients have elected to distribute the student-designed survey to customers themselves.
  • Usability Test (Mar. 10 - Apr. 1): Generally, students will need to recruit five potential users (i.e., not current users) for usability tests. As a result, client assistance for recruiting is often not required except for cases where the potential user population is small, specialized, and relatively hard to access (e.g., elementary school teachers, nanotechnologists). In such cases, the client may need to help students locate and connect with potential usability test participants.

Deliverables

In return, clients can expect to receive the following deliverables:

  • Interaction Map:  Students will produce a poster representing your system's key interactive paths and screens, along with the connections between them.
  • Interview Report, including Personas and Scenarios:  Based on the 5 interviews described above, students will present a report reflecting a nuanced understanding of who your (potential) users are, including their goals, practices, needs, and, if applicable, current uses of and attitudes about your system.
  • Comparative Analysis:  Students will compare your system to your competitors' systems, identifying relative strengths and weaknesses, best practices, and opportunities for improvement. Inspiration from systems outside your immediate competitive sphere will be presented as well.
  • Survey Report:  After conducting the survey described above, students will write up a report on the survey results.
  • Heuristic Evaluation:  Students will analyze your system to see how well it conforms to well-known usability principles, and provide recommendations for improvement.
  • Usability Test Report:  After conducting usability tests, students will report on the results, focusing on critical issues that were encountered when new users attempted to accomplish key tasks and on suggestions for improvement.
  • Final Presentation:  At the end of the term, each student group will orally present a summary of their key findings, as discovered across all of the studies they conducted, and their highest priority recommendations. Local clients are invited to attend the final presentations, while remote clients can arrange to receive the slides and/or arrange an alternative means of receiving the group's final recommendations.

Project proposal submission

Complete this form to apply for a usability assessment of your product.  The form submission deadline will be December 10. Potential clients will be contacted in November and December for a preliminary interview.

Contact information

Joyojeet Pal
Assistant Professor
734/764-1555
joyojeet@umich.edu