Analytics as a usability evaluation technique

Once your product has been released, understanding how it is actually being used very valuable. Analytics refers to the use of instrumentation to record data on users’ activities, followed by the analysis the collected data to detect trends and patterns. This data can then validate your assumptions as to which functions are being used most frequently and which parts of the product are seldom or never used, and you may be able to identify where users are running into trouble.

Some examples of the type of data that you can collect through analytics include:

  • Pages or screens visited, and time spent on each
  • Functions used, buttons and controls pressed, menu options selected, shortcut keystrokes pressed, etc.
  • Errors and failures
  • Duration of usage sessions

Websites and web apps are well suited to logging and tracking user activities. Many web analytics packages and services can provide additional contextual data such as the user’s geographic location, whether they have visited the site before, and what search terms were used to find the site if the user visited via a search engine.

Desktop and mobile apps can also collect usage data, but because of privacy concerns and regulations, it is important to declare to the user what data you intend to collect, and you must gain the user’s permission before transmitting any usage data.

No matter what type of product you offer, privacy concerns are important and you must ensure that your practices and Terms of Service follow the legal regulations appropriate for your jurisdiction. Tracking abstract usage data such as button presses are generally acceptable, but it is usually considered unacceptable to pry into content the user creates with the product.

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