The Readability and Usability of Building User Guides
Building user guides are intended to inform building occupants about the building systems within their workplace. They are created to describe and document all the necessary information pertaining to the buildings operation, maintenance, management and basic trouble shooting procedures. They have been found to be useful, as building systems are becoming increasingly complex. There is evidence to suggest that the Building User Guides are designed at a level that is too technical and too difficult to use for the average building user and that they are therefore not doing their job. This research evaluates how easily building occupants are able to read and use building user guides, that have been designed for use in green buildings (where they can contribute to the building’s New Zealand Green Building Council’s sustainability rating). Twenty-three Building User Guides by a range of firms and writers were sampled from all over the country. The building user guides were assessed for their readability and how easy they are to use. Their readability level was assessed using the Simple Measure of Gobbledegook (SMOG) as a basic measure of readability, while a second measure, a word frequency profiler was used to assess the vocabulary needed to read current building user guides. A usability study was completed through a user survey. This was completed by 47 respondents. The survey used both a Performance Test and a Text Evaluation Questionnaire to assess the building user guide’s usability. The readability study found that the building user guides were written at a level that meant the majority of New Zealanders would struggle to comprehend. The constant use of technical language and jargon present in the building user guides detracted from the overall readability of the document that. A consequence of these results would be the users failing to understand aspects of a building user guides. Furthermore, this could lead to the incorrect use of a building’s services, which in turn could affect the efficient use of GreenStar rated buildings and their performance in practice. The usability study found that users were capable of finding some set information within the building user guide. Of the tested aspects in the usability survey it was found that the contents page had the biggest impact on the participant’s perception of usability. Other key aspects found that would increase the usability include: bolder headings, a clearer layout, the addition of a frequently asked question section as well as the ability for the building user guide to be searched for key words. A set of guidelines were developed from the findings of this research, for future building user guides to follow.