As we said, the focus of this work is the application of a usability evaluation model to the urban environment. In order to do that, in this section we intend to investigate the matching points between the main features of the Polillo’s website quality model and the main characteristics of the city environment. In detail, we specify how the peculiar aspects of the six features emerged in the previous section find some equivalences at the city level. For each feature some examples related to the city of Rome are provided. The human perspective at the basis of this approach should guarantee that in this case it is measured and evaluated how the city is perceived by the city users.
In the urban environment, this level might correspond to the physical level, that is to say the organization of the city, the relationship between the different elements that constitute it (for example the urban and the mobility infrastructures), and the correspondence of the city composition (and elements) to the main city users’ needs. The architecture also includes the tools useful for travelling within the city (e.g. road signs and directions) and the elements for the representation of the city structure (e.g. maps).
In order to evaluate the suitability of the city architecture to the user needs, it is mainly important to identify the general structure and composition of the city and the main objectives of its users, by pointing out the variance between these two elements. It is also important to evaluate the efficacy and the effectiveness of the tools that help people moving within the city, identifying both the real correspondence between the real structures of the city and how it is represented, and if these tools really help people during their travel. An important element to focus on is the user understanding of the city structure and of the different levels of the city. In this sense, just think how a traditional tool to “navigate a city”, the map, can communicate several aspects of the city, such as the touristic one, the administrative one and so on. As an example, many different maps illustrate the city of Rome mostly referring to a single aspect (especially the touristic points of interest and the government buildings) and without integrating each other. These redundancy might contribute to create information fragmentation and to add confusion to the city user mind, impeding him/her to find the right information when needed. So the current tools may not adequately communicate the different aspects of Rome, as they represent a disjointed structure. This way to communicate the city of Rome might influence the way Rome is lived by its users, i.e. enjoying a single aspect at a time (as tourists, residents, workers, etc.).
In the urban context, this level might refer to the entire identity of the city (official and not) concerning its values and visual elements. In fact, different cities have different messages and give different suggestions. So, evaluating the communication of a city means focusing on how it communicates these contents towards the outside and on how it emphasizes their distinctive characteristics. In detail, it is important to identify how the city matches its visual identity with its real identity aspects, as well as if these characteristics are consistently present in the different city elements. It is also important to focus on the evaluation of the effectiveness of the communication system in helping people to use the city for reaching their goals.
Regarding that, we can focus on a specific similarity between the banners of the websites and the advertising signs of the city. In fact, as well as the banners cannot be perfectly integrated with the graphic elements of a website, by disturbing the user, also the billboards can clash with the general city elements and they can distract the city user, as shown in Fig. 1.
In order to avoid this negative citizen experience, in 2014 the Municipality of Rome prepared a plan that regulates the advertising panels of the city, both protecting its cultural heritage (that is a strong point of the city of Rome) and bringing the user to focus only on his/her activity, with no elements that could distract him/her.
In the urban environment, this level might regard the delivery of public utility services and spaces offered by the Public Administration. So, the evaluation of the city features focuses on how services and spaces adequately meet the city users’ needs and how they work. In detail, it is important to evaluate if these services (with their specific sub-functions) or spaces (with their specific characteristics) are consistent with what people want and with their objectives, if people always have the correct and necessary contextual information when he/she accesses to them, and if people can access to services and spaces and to the related information in an easy way. Moreover, the concrete performances of the different services and spaces should be evaluated.
As an example, in 2012 the citizens of Rome complained about the low quality of the public transport service by doing “ticket crossing” actions that consist in giving the unexpired bus ticket to the next bus passenger. This is an example that shows what a service that does not meet the people needs can produce. Considering the high number of protest by the city users, nowadays the public transport service of Rome is providing them with many value-added services, in order to improve their experience within the city, such as: promotion and discount for accessing to the services offered by the affiliated museums, theatres, restaurants, shops, and other kind of entertainments.
About the city spaces, we observe how human behaviours has been continually changing and influencing the urban structures. However, in general, the physical aspect of the city is mostly shaped on the basis of well-defined plans that take time to be effectively implemented, while behaviours change in a more quick and liquid way. So it is very probable that the city spaces often show some elements that do not adequately meet the current needs of citizens. This is made evident in the transformation of urban furniture in respect of the effective use made of them by the citizens. Figure 2 shows an example of a bottom up process of adjustment of the features offered by a public space in accordance with the real needs of people.
In the urban environment, this level might correspond to the information of the city, concerning both the physical and the digital environment. In detail, in this case it is important to evaluate how the information is “grouped” and organized. For example, we could evaluate how the different levels of the city (e.g. the political structures, the shopping streets, etc.) are present within the urban environment (if they create different areas, each dedicated to a specific level of the city, or if these levels are disseminated into different areas) and how people consider the related configuration. Moreover, we should evaluate the “labelling” of places and services (e.g. if the name of a specific space is appropriate and clear), if the used language (not only the verbal language) is suitable for the people aims, and if the provided information is appropriate and reliable. One of the important elements to focus on nowadays is also the direction of the information, since it is produced not only by the Public Administration that addresses it to the city users (top-down processes), but more and more by the city users themselves that address it to the Public Administration (bottom-up processes) or to other city users (peer-to-peer processes). Figure 3 shows an example related to the suitability of the label to the people aims and to the reliability of the information. In the city of Rome digital screens “as that illustrated into the picture below” give information concerning the limited traffic zones, and in particular if in a specific moment drivers can go in or not. If drivers can go in the message on the screen is “Active gate” (tr. “Varco attivo”); if not, the message is “Inactive gate” (tr. “Varco non attivo”), as reported in the picture below. These labels are generally considered not clear and people are confused when they read these messages. The reason is that usually people associate the adjective “active” to something that they can do, and the “inactive” with something that they cannot do. In the given example, this association is inverted, inducing many users to make mistakes.
In the urban environment, this characteristic might concern the management of the city by the Public Administration. The evaluation of the management focuses on: the availability of the city services and spaces; the city user perception of the duration of the possible services suspensions and the way in which they are communicated; who are the city users that use the different spaces and services of the city and how they enjoy them; how people see the possible maintenances of the city.
An example: the city of Rome had different problems related to the public works, mainly concerning the road maintenance. The most important problems have been: the lack of transparency regarding the duration of public works; the overlapping of the public interventions on the same urban area; the security of citizens; etc. In 2015 specific measures were adopted in order to facilitate the life of the city users, even in this sense. Among them: the use of electronic signage providing real-time updates for the work in progress the sharing of a map of the work on the road surface through which the city users can be informed and decide how moving; and the preparation of a plan which defines the different interventions avoiding the overlapping of works in the same urban area.
In the urban context, this feature (truthfully already applied in the city context) might mainly be referred to the accessibility to the physical and digital infrastructures of the city. In detail, this characteristic evaluates if all the people categories can access, in any way, to the city services and structures. Moreover, this level of usability also focuses on the times of access to the different services or structures (e.g. public buses) and on the findability of the different places of the city (also through different means of transportation and not only through one mean).
One of the main problems related to this feature is the presence of the architectural barriers that impede to people with physical impairments the movement or the use of services. Figure 4 is an example of this issue related to the city of Rome.