tl;dr - Of the three applications I looked at, only one is of any real value to users. I found issues relating to efficiency and UI mappings. I aim to learn from these issues in my own project.
Just a 'heads up' - I'll be referring to this project by a codename henceforth: "govt"
Three Android applications were readily available when I searched for words on Google Play, such as: "Congress," "Government," "Politicians." Briefly evaluating each has created a list of issues that will (hopefully) be avoided while developing govt.
What are heuristics?
Jakob Nielsen's revised list of heuristics are commonly referred to by computer and technology usability experts. He released this finalized list in 1994:
Heuristic evaluation - Nielsen's Heuristics
Okay, but how do we use them?
By examining software for these criteria as changes are made, teams can identify potential issues. After identifying, they can rate each issue by severity, and proceed to remedy them.
Fine, but what does this have to do with govt?
While heuristic evaluation is commonly used for a team's own project, I have decided that applying these principles to existing applications will help steer early design and feature decisions.
Contact Congress is a simple application, which was released in early 2012. It simply returns a list of politicians for a given ZIP code, and provides contact information when you select one. With its limited functionality in mind, here is some specific commentary.
Specific concerns based upon heuristics:
Flexibility and efficiency of use:
If the app is force-killed, you always restart at the first step, which is entering your desired ZIP code.
Selecting a senator or representative's address takes you to Google Maps, which is outside of the application.
Utilitarian to a fault - no information outside of how to contact a congressperson.
Error handling/Preventing errors:
- If you enter an invalid ZIP code, Contact Congress presents you with a lovely Toast reading "JSONException," which means nothing to the average human.
Congress 112 is a similarily utilitarian application. It provides a set of static data related to the 112th Congress, which ended on January 3, 2013.
Specific concerns based upon Nielsen's heuristics:
Flexibility and efficiency of use:
This search screen is..not so good. Am I searching for a person? A committee? A person who serves on a committee? What if I know the congressperson's name, but not their state?
There are many things to take issue with, but I am most concerned with the star that you see in the image above. It is a toggleable star, but I cannot figure out what it does. Perhaps it is the remnant of some planned, incomplete feature, but all it did was confuse me.
The header does not match Android style guidelines, and never did. There is a lot of white space, and does nothing to engage the user with his representatives!
Congress is a pretty good app. I found issues, but none of them are as serious as in the previous two evaluations' findings. As a result, I was able to dig a bit deeper.
- The first screen you see is very "busy" with different UI components being encapsulated in varying rectangles.
- Other UI components are equally "busy."
Shortcuts/Consistency (with other applications)
As in Congress 112, the "star" (favoriting?) concept is nebulous. The strange thing is that this application has push notifications as an option, so it would make sense for favoriting Nancy Pelosi to be the action that subscribes me to her push notifications.
Recognition vs. recall:
On the topic of favoriting, doing so adds a politician or piece of legislation to its respective list of saved things. These lists are buried under the main screen of the application. If the user wants to look at the things they have deemed important, that have to recall where to go in the application to retrieve that information.
Flexibility and efficiency:
User location is not cached - it is pulled from the device every time the user does a location-related action, regardless of the time in between.
Congress is optimized for interactions with pieces of legislation. Upcoming legislation is what you first see when you open the application.
Subscribing to push notifications is a 4 tap process at minimum. (ex: Open the list of starred legislation, select legislation, go to its 'Activity' tab, click to subscribe to its notifications)
The first two applications, Contact Congress and Congress 112, are clearly incomplete in most regards. Had there been more applications to evaluate, I would not have even written about them.
Congress ended up being an insightful application due to its polish and how many features it had. My biggest issues with it are efficiency of use, how UI maps to functionality, and overall design.
With these things in mind, I will try to avoid other applications' issues while developing govt.
The next post will actually have to do with code. I promise.