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A usability evaluation of iTunes using Jakob Nielsen's heuristics

A usability evaluation of iTunes using Jakob Nielsen's heuristics

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Published by kazkiely

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Published by: kazkiely on Nov 20, 2009
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02/18/2013

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 A heuristic evaluation of iTunes
Karen Kiely0643564Digital Media Design
 
INTRODUCTION
iTunes is a digital media player software by Apple. It is relatively new, introduced in 2001as an interface to manage the content of the digital media device, iPod (Ars Technica, 2004). Thesoftware has a number of different functions, which include the playing of music files and themanagement of files on external devices, namely iPod and iPhone.I chose this system to base my heuristic evaluation on because the system is so popular andis used my millions of users the world over. It will be interesting to see how the usability might beone of the reasons for the system's popularity. As well as this, Apple and iPod systems arerenowned for being easy-to-use. A personal example of this is when I first opened my iPod Touch,there was no instructions included with the package. This, no doubt, shows the designers'confidence in the usability of the device. If there is such a confidence in the device's usability, itwill be interesting for me to research into the usability of the related program.The key tasks I have chosen to evaluate according to Jakob Nielsen's ten heuristics includeimporting music from a CD, organising a selection of these files into a playlist and synchronizingthis playlist with an external device (iPod). I have chosen these particular tasks as each is a veryimportant and commonly used task on this system. Analysing the usability of these tasks will giveme an accurate evaluation of the overall software.
Heuristics are, literally,
(Pearl, 1983). Heuristic evaluation is a technique devised byexperts to test the usability of a system. The user interface of a system is assessed using tenusability heuristics which have been devised by Jakob Nielsen. Nielsen describes the heuristics as
a method for finding the usability problems in a user interface design so that they can be attended to as part of an iterative design process
Nielsen (2005)Evaluators examine the interface and note the compliance of the interface with the heuristics(Nielsen, 2005 1).The reason we need to apply Nielsen's list of ten heuristics is to examine the usability of theinterface according to the most important “rules”. Should the system comply with these rules, it is permitted to move on from the 'evaluation' stage of the iterative design process to the deployment of the system. If it doesn't comply, the developers need to revert back to the design stage to alter thesystem so as to avoid the problems highlighted during the evaluation.
 
HEURISTIC EVALUATION
Visibility of system statusWhen the CD is inserted, it is a few seconds before it appears on the interface. The onlyindication the user has that the CD has been inserted is the humming of the CD drive. Therefore, thesystem immediately fails to provide the user with the status of the CD. A first user of the systemcould be wondering had the CD been inserted correctly/was the program able to read the files on theCD etc. After a few seconds have passed, the name of the CD, provided the user has an internetconnection, is displayed on the screen. It is highlighted which shows the user that the CD has beenread successfully. This aspect of the insertion of the CD has succeeded in informing the user of thesystem status (Fig.1).The actual act of importing the CD provides excellent visibility of the system status. To thetop of the screen, the user is shown that the system is “Importing [song name]”, the number of seconds remaining and a bar that fills gradually as the song is imported. As well as this, there is asmall icon beside each listed song, either a green tick to denote a successfully imported song or anorange wave to denote importing. When all songs are imported, each has a green tick and thesystem gives an audible sound that denotes a successful import (Fig.1). iTunes succeeds ininforming its users of the system's status while importing the CD. Next, the user wants to create a playlist with some of the imported song files. Firstly, theuser uses the cursor to roll over 'File' which cause the word 'File' to become highlighted. The user then clicks and chooses 'New playlist', which has also become highlighted when the cursor rollsover it (Fig.2). The playlist then appears under the heading 'Playlists', highlighted with a flashingcursor after the default title 'Untitled playlist'. The GUI's menus have made obvious which item has been selected (Pierotti, 2004) by means of highlighting the particular option with a dark grey. Usinganother of Pierotti's suggestions, there is always “system feedback for every operator action”(Pierotti, 2004). iTunes has succeeded in making the system status visible when choosing the optionto create a new playlist.Having created and named this new playlist 'SAMPLE PLAYLIST', the user selects therequired songs. These selected files are all highlighted blue to show a successful selection. Again,the system triumphs here. The user then drags the selected files towards the playlist, during which,it is shown that the ten files have successfully been selected by means of a music file icon with ared star saying '10' (Fig.4). This is efficient visibility of the system status. Here the system makes aminor failure. The user isn't informed of the status of the files as they are being dragged to playlist.When the playlist is then dragged to the device, the user sees the word “Syncing...” in thetop bar which is excellent visibility of the system status (Fig.8).

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