Numbers Aren’t Everything…But They Can Help.

Numbers numbers everywhere.  Everywhere you look there are numbers claiming all kinds of things from the number of hits a web page gets (hit counters), to the number of hamburgers McDonald’s says it has sold.  This week I had an assignment to choose one kind of numbers based (quantitative) usability test and figure out the pro’s con’s and possible reporting styles for it.  I choose “Number of Clicks” which, in my opinion, can be seen in two ways: first the number of hits a pages gets…clicks to it, or secondly the number of clicks it takes to drill through a web page to get to a certain bit of the site.  Either bit of numerical info can be very important to know…one gauges traffic, the other gauges site depth & ease of navigation.  Either way these numbers can prove useful, and as any web site designer will tell you they have.

But, with a capital B, as any statistician will tell you – numbers lie -.  For example if the numbers tell me that my contact page is getting 3000 hits a day I may think everyone is looking to contact me. “Hurray!”  But if everyone is getting to my contact page only because some poor web site navigation misdirected them there…my number of clicks / hit counts aren’t giving me the whole picture, and I may not realize the problem for quite some time.  This is bad for usability which makes it bad for me. “Boo!”

When all was said and done the conclusion I came to in dealing with numbers and usability is this:  Numbers (quantitative data) should always be paired with user based (qualitative data) information this way we get the whole picture.  As a bonus with the two kinds of data we can easily confirm or disprove our findings.

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