Yanting Zhang

Yanting Zhang is a graduate student at the University of Michigan School of Information, specializing in human-computer interaction.  During an internship at Pro Bono Net this summer, she worked on a LawHelp Interactive usability project, which aimed to uncover best practices and recommendations for making the online legal document assembly service even more user-friendly.  She discusses the project below.

Usability is the study of the ease with which people can employ a particular tool in order to achieve a particular goal. Usability should be part of the design process to ensure user satisfaction.

Pro Bono Net hired me as an intern to help improve the user experience of LawHelp Interactive (LHI), its online legal document assembly service. During this summer I worked on the LHI Usability Project with Adam Licht, Pro Bono Net’s Director of Product Management. We looked at the underlying technology, the design of the interactive templates and the physical layout of computer stations in court-based self-help centers.

The main methods I used include Contextual Inquiry, Field Observation, Heuristic Evaluation, Usability Testing and Prototyping.

Contextual Inquiry is a field data-gathering technique to understand the users and how they work day to day. To collect data, designers learn from their customers.  To understand LHI users’ needs and gather user requirements, we visited several courts in the Bronx and Manhattan.  We both observed individuals using LHI and interviewed them. We also conducted a contextual interview with a template developer to have a better understanding of the template development process.

We learned, for example, that some LHI users didn’t know how to get their documents after they completed the interactive interview. So we plan to repeat the instructions for getting documents on the page users see after the final step.

Heuristic Evaluation is a technique to evaluate usability without involving users. It’s fast, cheap and easy to use. In this case, I examined LawHelp Interactive and evaluated its compliance with a list of recognized usability principles (the heuristics).  I used a list called Nielsen’s Heuristics, which includes principles such as error prevention, consistency and user control.

Usability Testing is a very useful technique in user-centered design to find out how real users interact with and feel about your product. By observing users performing several specific tasks, designers can capture their reaction and feedback. By analyzing the results, significant usability problems can be found.

To maximize the usage and adoption of LHI and serve more unrepresented litigants, I provided design principles for the court’s physical computer station layout. For example, one guideline is to set up the computer center in a private room or semi-private space. The litigant’s benefit from this is less distraction leading to better concentration and better protection of personal information. The floor plan shows an example of this setup, which should result in increased productivity and better data protection.

To learn more about this project contact Adam Licht at alicht@probono.net.  For more on usability testing, LSNTAP has a series of blog posts on this topic.