Chalkmark and the Tao te Ching — A usability study for Iowa State University

 Today, we present a usability study run and written by Dana Lynn as part of her Masters degree in HCI at Iowa State University. Dana's report shows Chalkmark in action, and will give you insights from Dana into how to run and report on an effective usability study.

Dana is an Interactive Designer for Hewlett Packard, and has over 20 years of visual design experience. She's a graduate of Parsons The New School for Design in NYC, and is interested in HCI and User Experience as a practice.

This usability report is the result of a mobile web application assignment that was developed with jQuery mobile UI, PHP and MySQL. The usability study was performed using the Chalkmark tool. Wireframe mockups of the mobile app were tested to determine if the iconography was intuitive and if people were interested in this genre. The focus of the project was to learn more about what actually goes into the development of something as simple as a user system and a bookmarking tool.


My Tao te Ching is a mobile site that offers the complete Tao te Ching in a simple yet inspiring format. Each chapter is presented daily for 81 days. The content for each chapter is available as text or audio. The user can browse chapters, read them in order, bookmark them and add to favorites. The user can also send a chapter to someone by email. Journal allows users to record their thoughts about the Tao.


The goals for this usability study were to determine:

  •  if the users accessed the site from the home screen icon or from the login button
  •  if the chapter iconography is intuitive
    • chapter expand/collapse icon
    • ­chapter share icon
    • chapter favorite
  • if people are interested in content delivered in this format
  • if we like this new usability tool from called Chalkmark to test wireframes.


Summary Chalkmark

21 Participants

Demographic: Degree professionals

Chalkmark participants


Do you currently use a mobile site or mobile app that fosters mindfulness and simplicity?

Overview chalkmark 1

How likely are you to use a mobile site or app in the future that promotes mindfulness and simplicity?

Overview chalkmark 2

What would you change about the user experience of this site thus far?

  • The star looked like it was for favorites but which favorite is it applied to? It was hard to tell from the screen.
  • Use a standard accordion UI.
  • Can I access the site anonymously without logging in? I would like to preview it before creating an account.
  • I have no idea what the circular/triangular icon is to the right of the chapters.
  • I'm not sure what the icon on the far right for each chapter is supposed to be. If I could click on it I'd probably figure it out though. I thought "History" would be a history of what I've done in the app and not a "History" of the Tao. I think I was supposed to assume the later.

What would you change about the user experience of this site thus far?

  • The chapters look easy to select with a mouse but I think bigger targets would be more user friendly and help avoid clicking the one what I didn’t want. The same goes for the open close carats for the chapters. Perhaps hard to select with touch gestures.
  • Maybe the ability to set reminders to pop up a tip of the day. I didn't find an email link to recommend the entire site rather than just a chapter.
  • I would like to keep track of which chapters I have already read. I would also like to see different translations of the text in parallel in order to deepen my understanding. Perhaps explanatory footnotes would help with this as well.
  • A help section.
  • I'd like Samuel L Jackson or James Earl Jones to read the Tao to me. Maybe depending on the day I could pick a different voice.

Task 1: Click on where you would enter the site.

Screen shot 2014-04-26 at 12.41.55 PM
  • 71% clicked the login button.
  • 14% clicked the Chinese character.
  • 10% clicked the search bar.

Insight: Users recognize that for a mobile site you typically enter the site through a login button.

Task 2: Click on where you would finish logging in.

Screen shot 2014-04-26 at 12.42.04 PM
  • 90% clicked the correct login button.

Insight: Users are not confused about the login button that completes the login after entering a username and password.

Task 3: What would you do if  you didn't have a username or password?

Screen shot 2014-04-26 at 12.42.13 PM
  • 48% clicked the join button.
  • 48% clicked the forgot username button.

Insight: Users are confused about where to go if  they do not have a username or password.

Action: Make it clear to the user that membership requires a username and password and not having one means you have not joined the site then test again.

Task 4: Read the Tao te Ching in its entirety.

Screen shot 2014-04-26 at 12.42.26 PM
  • 71% clicked the full text expander.
  • 10% clicked on the full text row.
  • 10% clicked on the next button.

Insight: Users understand the clicking anywhere on full text row will open the full text.

Task 5: Select a single chapter to read.

Screen shot 2014-04-26 at 12.42.35 PM
  • 72% clicked a single chapter.

Insight: Users understand that clicking anywhere on numbered row will open/close a chapter.

Task 6: Where would you click to open and close a chapter?

Screen shot 2014-04-26 at 12.42.45 PM
  • 76% clicked on the chapter open/close icon.

Insight: Users understand that clicking on the triangle icon will open/close a row.

Task 7: Where would you click to add a chapter to your favorites?

Screen shot 2014-04-26 at 12.42.55 PM
  • 76% clicked on the favorite icon.

Insight: Users are familiar with the star as being the favorite icon.

Task 8: Where would you click to share a chapter?

Screen shot 2014-04-26 at 12.43.06 PM
  • 62% clicked on the share icon.
  • 24% clicked on the main menu.

Insight: Users are familiar with the share icon.

Action: Explore a better UX for sharing, possibly a tool tip or hover and test again.

Task 9: Where would you click to have chapters selected for you in no particular order?

Screen shot 2014-04-26 at 12.43.20 PM
  • 90% clicked on random.

Insight: Users understand the concept of random.

Task 10: Where is the main menu for this site?

Screen shot 2014-04-26 at 12.43.28 PM
  • 90% clicked on the main menu.

Insight: Users are familiar with the main menu iconography and its expected location.

Task 11: Where can I learn more about the Tao te Ching?

Screen shot 2014-04-26 at 12.43.37 PM
  • 76% clicked on history.
  • 19% clicked on discussion.

Insight: Users would expect to learn more about the text on the history page and also in the discussion area.

Action: Develop discussion feature and test again.

Task 12: Where would you record your thoughts or feelings?

Screen shot 2014-04-26 at 12.43.45 PM
  • 86% clicked on journal.

Insight: Journal is a recognizable location for users to record their thoughts.

Task 13: Where would you click to see all of your journal entries?

Screen shot 2014-04-26 at 12.43.56 PM
  • 86% clicked on view.
  • 10% clicked on the main menu.

Insight: Users understood the view button would display journal entries since they are already in the journal section.

Task 14:  Where would you click to logout of this site?

Screen shot 2014-04-26 at 12.44.07 PM
  • 100% clicked on the logout button.

Insight: The logout button is in an expected location making it easy for the user to logout.



  1. Preview site without logging in.
  2. Provide user feedback when adding chapters to favorites.
  3. Keep track of chapters read.
  4. Improve the clarity of the sharing feature.
  5. Clarify that membership is required if the user does not have a login.


  1. Offer different translations of the text.
  2. Offer the text with audio options.
  3. Develop discussion feature.


Most participants do not use a site like this but would like to.

Published on May 16, 2014
Alan O'Neill
  • Alan O'Neill
  • Alan is Optimal Workshop's marketing manager and digital lightbulb. He's Irish, loves surfing, and has a weird fascination with Red Pandas. Find him on @optimalworkshop or @optimalAlan

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