Study of Penn State Webmail Usability and Design Effectiveness

Open Access
Milligan, Kevin George
Area of Honors:
Letters, Arts, and Sciences (Abington)
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Andrew Gregory August, Thesis Supervisor
  • Robert Louis Avanzato, Thesis Supervisor
  • Gholam Khaksari, Honors Advisor
  • website usability
  • website design
  • Penn State Webmail
  • website
  • web page
With more of the nation’s, and world’s, population gaining knowledge about the Internet, it is becoming that much more important for businesses to be able to reach out to potential customers over this medium. However, with something so new, people want an online experience as hassle-free as possible. Otherwise, businesses run the risk of losing their online customer base, and will be unable to adapt to any future trends in online sales. The purpose of this experiment is to prove whether or not this is true – if people will get “turned off” of a website that is difficult to use. This will be done through a web-based, IRB-approved survey, filled out by IST majors at the Pennsylvania State University Abington campus. The subject of this survey is Penn State Webmail, a free browser-based e-mail client available to students of the Pennsylvania State University. During the survey, students will be asked about their experiences in doing three common tasks on the site: writing and sending e-mail messages, searching for and managing contacts, and creating and managing message folders. The survey also includes a section on comparing the ease of these tasks with doing them on any other webmail clients the students may use, and another on general web page usability questions. The data collected from this survey shows the importance of making all sorts of tasks, not just reading text, on websites easy to accomplish. Some actions common to Penn State Webmail were easy to do based on their own merits, but were harder to do when compared to the same tasks on other webmail sites. As such, even though general qualities of websites tested positively, not all students would prefer to continue using Penn State Webmail if given the chance. Businesses that are developing their own websites must test all actions that can be performed on them in order to avoid a similar fate.