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Contest - Usability Best Practices


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147 replies to this topic

#46 Haystack

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Posted 30 July 2003 - 02:19 AM

Yes, a web site shouldn't confound or confuse a person, if you can help it.
But it also shouldn't be so much like every other site on the web that it's easy to ignore.

bragadocchio, I don't think the two above statements are mutually exclusive. Jakob's research has shown him that webmasters are foolish to break from the conventions which are somewhat standardized on the web today. While a person is free to do whatever they want when designing a site, web users have grown to expect certain things to be in certain places. For example, you can expect to find a link to a site's homepage by clicking on the company's logo. You can also generally expect to navigate a site using navigation along the top of the page or along the left column.

Basically, he's suggesting to use your creative talents within the boundaries of accepted design standards. This is no different from car designers who continually turn out new cars but generally stick to putting the steering wheel and dashboard controls in a consistent location.

#47 Bill Slawski

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Posted 30 July 2003 - 05:59 AM

He's telling people to take a conservative approach, and avert risk. It's not bad advice in most circumstances, but it leads to a pretty boring world.

Standards are fine and good, but even Tim Berniers-Lee has admonished people to look past the specifications of the latest approved version of html and look to innovate and build something new and better.

We can let standards be a guide, or a set of blinders.

Usabilty standards guidelines should be read critically, and should be broken if they aren't appropriate. They are guidelines. Lightning won't come out of the sky and strike us dead for doing something a little different. As much good as the alertbox columns are, it's too easy to take them for gospel.

What I'm suggesting is to be aware of accepted design standards, and to know that sometimes the guidelines are not there because they are the best that's ever come along, but rather because they are the latest. I mean, we have cars. We didn't always have cars. Someone must have deviated from that horse and buggy standard.

It's really easy to look at that statement from Jakob, and build something that's just good enough. I want to make things that are better. So, why is that steering wheel where is it? Would a joystick work better?

There's an element to usability that hadn't been included in this thread. Things should be fun to use. :aloha:

#48 Alan Perkins

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Posted 30 July 2003 - 06:27 AM

Usability best practice - provide an interesting experience for your site's visitors.

and

There's an element to usability that hadn't been included in this thread. Things should be fun to use.

An interesting and fun web site is no doubt a good thing. But what's that got to do with usability? :aloha: Stickiness, maybe...

IMO you need to know the rules of usability before you can break them creatively. You shouldn't read too much into blanket statements, such as those often made by Jakob Nielsen. They're made for another kind of reader, one who doesn't know the rules yet. His mission is to "get them to get it". Once they get it, they don't see so much in what he's saying - because they're beyond it.

There is no doubt that many web sites lack usability, not because of creative divergence from the rules of usability, but mainly because of ignorance of the rules of usability.

#49 dragonlady7

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Posted 30 July 2003 - 09:56 AM

>generally stick to putting the steering wheel and dashboard controls in a consistent location>

The only car I've ever seen with the dashboard display in a different place is my boyfriend's Toyota Prius, which has the speedometer and other digital displays in the exact center of the dashboard, just up against the windshield. I thought that was decidedly odd the first time I saw it and was like what are they, freaking hippies or something (for hippies insert whatever group you think it's mildly amusing to deride; it varies by day for me)? Also, the gear shifter is next to the side of the steering wheel and operates up-to-down like a slot machine lever. Very strange-looking.. But...
He bought the car and loves it. I've driven it several hundred miles at this point and I don't even notice that the speedometer's in a different place. It's still *easily visible*, which is the primary purpose of one of those things, and actually it's *more* easily visible because you don't have to take your eyes off the road, just refocus them, to see it.
What am I getting at?

Well, you can make changes to the accepted guidelines if you know what you're doing and are fully aware of the consequences. It also helped that the Prius has a lot of other things that are different, as well, so changing something standard like the dashboard doesn't seem so weird. It has a hybrid electric/gasoline engine, for one. It gets 48 mpg on the highway (52 in the city). The transmission isn't a normal five-speed, it's a "continuously variable" transmission with no set "gears" in the traditional sense. The car has a touchscreen monitor set into the lower part of the dash near the radio and climate controls, that displays your current mileage and other related information.
So, the people that are likely to be interested in a Prius *want* something different. Simply moving the speedometer is not going to deter them if they're interested in the first place, and in fact they'll appreciate its new location. It also keeps the cost of the cars down because the dashboard doesn't have to be as heavily modified for British manufacture.

How does this apply to websites? It applies in that you should know your audience. Will they appreciate something being different if they can see that it may well be better the new way? Or will they just be pissed off that it's not where/what they thought it was because that's how AOL has their homepage?
I know that sounds like common sense but everything's common sense if you know enough; to have it all collected in one place is a valuable reminder of it, and why this thread is a good idea.

#50 qwerty

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Posted 30 July 2003 - 10:03 AM

That's a great example, Dragonlady. I also think it's a good opportunity for Toyota to experiment with design changes. Because they know that the people buying this particular model are open to new ideas (the vanguard, if you will) they can try out stuff they'd like to put into their more standard models, get feedback from the Prius users, and make decisions about moving forward based on that.

So by seeking out the people who are open-minded about breaking the mold, they can gain a lot of insight about how to alter the mold in the future.

#51 Think Web

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Posted 30 July 2003 - 11:52 AM

Site Search

This one's more for larger sites - but it could apply to smaller sites.

Ensure that every page has a search box, and place it at the top of the page. Make it obvious it is a search box, and try to use the word 'search' or 'go' for the button (I prefer search as it tends to be more intuitive for the user).

Make sure the search box is long enough so that the user can see the search terms they are entering into the box.


There are both benefits and problems when considering implementing a site search feature.

Benefit: Helps user find what they want.
Problem: Could lose user due to poor or missing search results.

For example, most site searches work by indexing the websites visible text.

Let's say someone wants to find an address on a site that doesn't have the word "address" located anywhere, but does have the company address listed. The search result will yield zero results, even though the information is truely there.
Are you feeling the frustration?


Benefit: You can gather valuable information by capturing visitor search queries. Those search logs are a gold mine of keyword and search-ability information!

As you can see, there are many potential benefits and issues by using a site search. Most don't think through these issues before diving into this arena.

Where am I going?
Another usability best practice would be to define the purpose of your website. I see so many sites that are nothing more than a blob of information that someone slapped on the Internet. Site owners seem to pray that you'll figure out where to go and what to do next.

Define a few goal/target pages...and then help the visitors get to those pages.

If an e-commerce site's goal is to sell products, make the target page the "Thank you for purchasing our product". I think a mistake that is often made is defining the "Buy now" page as the the goal/target. This would be incorrect, because if your form or applications are difficult to use (or broke) - you may be losing customers at the form - and never know it. But, if you define the target page as the "Thank you" page, you can measure true success.

Example:

100 people get to the "Buy" page, but only 10 make it to the "Thank you" page. There are issues!

#52 dragonlady7

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Posted 30 July 2003 - 11:57 AM

That kind of market must be great to be marketing to. I read a study about the kinds of people who buy things (i know, specific)-- I think it was about technology, and explained the characteristics of who is going to adopt a new technology when, and at which point a technology has been accepted and will remain until supplanted by a new innovation. But to be one who markets to and sells to the ones most willing to try wacky new things must be great-- it's hard to alienate them, and you're more likely to get your cool new ideas implemented.
I don't know that I'd feel that way if I were actually involved with them. Most of them are probably gadget maniacs who don't care what it is as long as it looks cool. My boyfriend isn't really a gadget maniac but he's definitely rabid about the car. He loves it and for the first month he had it would email me daily about something else cool that it had just done. :D He's so cute. It's a great car, too.

#53 Bill Slawski

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Posted 30 July 2003 - 12:10 PM

An interesting and fun web site is usually a good thing. But what's that got to do with usability?


It's difficult to look beyond some of the guidelines to the concepts behind them, but it is important to do that. One of the most important concepts in usability is user satisfaction. Do people like the site? Are they satisfied with it. Of course, an ability to finish a task ona site, will aid in a postitive perception. But, a dull, unexciting site will likely get used less than a site that is fun and interesting and allows a task to be completed just as easily.


I'm not convinced that failure to have a search can ever be as bad as having no search at all. A site with an intelligent and usable navigation system doesn't necessarily need search. A site with a really bad search may very quicly lead to site abandonment.


Here's an interesting article that I'm kind of fond of:

Evolution Trumps Usability Guidelines
http://www.uie.com/A...s_usability.htm


Some interesting stuff in there, such as how some guidelines that are helpful on some sites are harmful on others.

#54 Bill Slawski

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Posted 30 July 2003 - 12:14 PM

Great example dragonlady7. :D

Thank you.

The Cooper Mini S has an interesting dashboard like that, and a bunch of design features that are pretty unusual. A friend of mine recently got one, and I'm jealous...

#55 Scottie

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Posted 30 July 2003 - 12:17 PM

Arranging elements on a page

Remember that people (who read using the roman alphabet) read from left to right.

Typically you will want to place your most important elements in the upper left side of the page. The further right and down you go, the less emphasis in placed on an element. Fine for graphics, bad for links and text.

This can be overcome with overemphasis (oversize, bright colors, anything that draws the eye) but as a general rule, put things that are most important first.

Too many sites put their secondary navigation (about us, contact, jobs) in their most important real-estate. People will look for that information- you want to direct their attention to products, services, or information that serves the site's goals.

#56 Scottie

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Posted 30 July 2003 - 12:27 PM

Spacing out Content

No, I don't mean spaced-out content. :D

Have you ever seen a large post that was all written as one paragraph? Did you want to read it or did you feel like you really had to focus to understand it?

Putting spaces between paragraphs draws the eye down the page and encourages the reader to continue. A good balance between text and whitespace is important, especially with large amounts of text.

#57 Alan Perkins

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Posted 30 July 2003 - 12:41 PM

It's difficult to look beyond some of the guidelines to the concepts behind them, but it is important to do that.

I spend much of my time doing that, bragadocchio, especially in the search engine spam arena ... you spotted the :D in my original post, I hope. :)

The designers of the Prius and Cooper S dashboards have likely designed a "conventional" dashboard before (unless they are geniuses). They know what works and why, and therefore how to bend or break the rules. Unlike many wannabe web designers, IMO.

#58 Scottie

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Posted 30 July 2003 - 01:03 PM

Excellent points Bill. I agree with Alan that you've got to walk before you can run.

An accomplished designer ought to be able to break the rules without losing the concepts of usability. But they do need to know what they are doing first.

But, a dull, unexciting site will likely get used less than a site that is fun and interesting and allows a task to be completed just as easily.


I would disagree on the quote... I'd much rather have a dull, boring site that is full of great content and easy to navigate than have something fresh and exciting that I can't find my way around or that frustrates me by hiding things I expect to be able to find.

It may be fun, but if it's not usable first I won't be back! All things being equal though, it would be more appealing to visit a site that is fresh and original. It's just that things typically aren't equal and more emphasis is given to novelty than usability.

#59 dragonlady7

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Posted 30 July 2003 - 01:30 PM

>a site that doesn't have the word "address" located anywhere, but does have the company address listed>

I'm taking that into account when I design this site. I'm using Google's site search feature. It helps focus you-- don't just optimize for what users will search Google for, optimize as well for what users will search YOUR SITE for.
That said, i'm not sure our contact page *says* address anywhere. The problem is I can't test the site search feature until the page is live because the testing directory is excluded from Google. Once it's up you can bet your biscuit I'm going to have friends come use the site search and see if they can find what they're looking for. (One's mother is invaluable in such a capacity. Also, grandmother. They love me, really...)
I do the same thing when I write help systems-- try to think what people are going to search for help on, and try to index the relevant topics under those words and phrases. It's hard to do! I'm not very good at it. But it's definitely important to think about.

#60 Think Web

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Posted 30 July 2003 - 01:42 PM

...Once it's up you can bet your biscuit I'm going to have friends come use the site search and see if they can find what they're looking for. (One's mother is invaluable in such a capacity. Also, grandmother. They love me, really...)
I do the same thing when I write help systems-- try to think what people are going to search for help on, and try to index the relevant topics under those words and phrases. It's hard to do! I'm not very good at it. But it's definitely important to think about.


Capture the visitors search queries to a log file, then study. We had a site search and studied the logs...for a while. We later decided it was more work than it was worth. We're now switching gears and spending our time and efforts on making our site user-friendly.




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