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Effective Interface Design

PsycINFO is an electronic database providing users access to numerous journal articles online. This database makes the task of conducting research more efficient as the database itself searches through the numerous resources in order to display only those articles with relevant information. Two abstracts of articles obtained from this database are attached in the appendix section of this paper. Despite the efficiency which this database provides when compared to conventional methods of research, the different aspects of its design still require scrutiny.

The first aspect to be regarded is visual clarity. This requires the visibility of all relevant functions and the limitation of the user’s focus to only the data displayed. Visual clarity also requires that the functions available to the researcher are defined and easily understandable. PsycINFO fares well in this category in terms of sufficient definition of the functions available for the user. However, there are several tools on the main page itself which tend to draw the user’s focus away from the task at hand.

Take for example the search function, the dominance of the search display accounts for inability of a new user to observe the changes effected on the results display. This is resolved only with a search looking for keywords and enabling the function for mapping terms to subject heading. There are several other extraneous details on the page such as the language display options on the upper right hand side and the OvidSP Tip on the right side of the search display. These functions take up space which could allow for a more compact search display.

An option should be made available to the user to hide these displays once the user has considered their content. The same can be said for the Search Aid and the Results Manager displays to the left of the results display. The excessive details derive attention from the results display – which doesn’t even have a header bar like the others to make it more distinct. The feedback mechanism of the database is also faulty. One example concerns errors which occur when opening pages display technical jargon and do not provide the user with information as to possible actions which may be performed.

When the page is refreshed with the browser refresh button, the page reflects the information initially required. This only perpetuates the inefficient process which users might get used to circumventing. Also, when using the email function to send a copy of a viewed article, the database presents a disclaimer that if the email is not received the problem may be due to a bug in the database system. This information is not helpful because it serves to make the user worry that the information may not have been sent.

Furthermore, the reason for such failure to send might only be, with no exclusion to the whole range of possible reasons, attributable to system error on the part of the database. This is not an effective feedback mechanism. The system also has some points for improvement as regards flexibility. Take for example the multiple links to pages displaying the result in different manners. Following such a link presents a dead end to users as there is no sufficient undo button to allow for return to the original result display.

This leaves the user to rely on prior information regarding the functions of the browser used – thus resorting to “go back one page” options offered by the browser. Such an option should be made available by the database itself alongside options to return to main page. As regards consistency and compatibility, PsycINFO ranks high. The system is reliable in display images and icons used. The colors used are consistent with emphasized words colored or highlighted red. All other function displays and buttons are blue and green. The cursor used is the basic arrow used in windows and other search engines so it doesn’t present any confusion.

The actual process of searching for data is also compatible with knowledge of internet surfing or other database search processes. Those processes which are unique to the database or might be new to the user provide little hints at the bottom of the text regarding characteristics that are inconsistent with previous knowledge of search systems. The system also provides for adequate guidance as it has an extensive help menu and field guide for the user to utilize. These functions are readily available to the user at any time as they are located at the upper right hand corner of each page.

As earlier discussed, the system provides for hints as different functions are used. This provides for adequate error prevention in the system. However, with the current feedback mechanisms in place, not to mention the rigidity of the system, there are few error detection and correction measures which the user might utilize. The system performs sufficiently in terms of user expectations as to the effects of processes initiated. This shows that the function labels and the system compatibility with other search engines are effective in guiding the user through the use of the system.

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