Sunday, March 4, 2012

uoZone usability issues

By: Hamoud Aljamaan
Portals were introduced for web users aiming at offering a single point of access to a number of services provided by different entities. uoZone is a portal for uOttawa students that gives them access to important information related to their studies. In this blog, I am criticizing the uoZone portal interface from a uOttawa graduate student perspective.

  • Layout design
One of most critical usability mistakes when designing a portal is enforcing a portal design template to be followed by portal users. In uoZone, users are stuck with a template of minimum 3 columns with preselected channels in them. Users can’t have less than 3 columns (i.e. delete any of the default columns), nor delete preselected channels in them.

uoZone portal users may add columns next to any of the default columns, and fill it with chosen channels. Moreover, channels may be added below preselected channels in default columns. However, adding more columns will the make interface more hideous, unorganized, and compacted with information. For example, try adding 1 more column with a weather forecast channel between column 1 and 2 and you will see the last column awkwardly move below the first column.

Lack of a channel rearrangement option is another usability flaw in portal design template.  Users can’t rearrange channels in default columns based on their priority.

  • Inappropriate icon images
In the top right section of uoZone portal, you will find four icons each representing different user functionality. First icon shows the representation of a calendar somehow. The second icon clearly represents email functionality. Third icon represents somehow layout organization functionality. However, if you take a look at the red circle, a wild guess might suggest that it’s an icon to shut down your system! But, it allows you to log out from portal.

Channels have two icons; one (left) for expanding the channel into a full webpage, and second (right) for minimizing window.

Using the minimizing option results in a usability defect. It hides the information inside the channel without giving any hint about the content; at least the channel headline should be shown. Minimizing all channels in a single column resulted in the following interface.

  • Different font sizes
In some channels, text is represented by different font sizes. This considered poor design and affects the readability of information inside these channels.

While in some other channels, text is formatted with many different formats (e.g. italic and underline), which makes reading annoying and distracting.

  • Conclusion
Most portals suffer from usability shortcomings. These shortcomings might seem trivial, however, they highly affect the overall user experience of these portals. Usability flaws might be due to usability being at the bottom of objectives when designing portals, or even worse usability is not part of the whole design.


  1. Very good topic! What I also find horrible are the useless topics such as "Student Stories" that they put right in your face and the actually useful things are hidden in the lower right corner.

  2. Information is scattered. I bet nobody will ever find right information on one click. I also tried customization feature but its even more confusing. Very bad usability.