Book Review "Designing Web Usability" Part 2 | WebReference

Book Review "Designing Web Usability" Part 2

Summary of Key Chapters: Designing Web Usability Part 2

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Writing for the Web
  • Hire a Web editor
  • Keep your texts short, light
  • Design for scannability
  • Use plain language: tight, inverted pyramid writing with a light touch
  • Coherent page chunking: users don't like to scroll so place most important links above the fold

Page Titles
  • 2-6 words, 40-60 chars
  • Self standing, scannable, put keywords first

  • Use high contrast colors for optimum legibility (black text on white background best)
  • Use plain or extremely subtle backgrounds
  • Use fonts large enough for impaired vision
  • Keep text static, moving text is harder to read
  • Left justify text

Online documentation
  • Trim page screenshots
  • Searchable
  • Include numerous examples
  • Task-oriented
  • Conceptual model
  • Glossary integrated
  • Be brief

Show preview picture and file size

Images and photographs
Make your content fast and useful to solve users problems.
  • Minimize gratuitous graphics
  • Crop and scale (relevance-enhanced image reduction)

Minimize use of animation as it is distracting.
  • Use fixed loops (not forever)
  • Animation is good for:
    • Showing continuity in transitions
    • Indicating dimensionality in transitions
    • Illustrating change over time
    • Multiplexing the display
    • Enriching graphical representations
    • Visualizing three-dimensional structures
    • Attracting attention (slide and stop headlines, never continuous)
    • Animation backfires: users now ignore it

  • Minimize use due to limited bandwidth
  • Use downloadable video rather than streaming (higher quality)
  • Break up longer videos for user control, attention span

Good-quality sound enhances your users experience.

Enabling users with disabilities to use multimedia content
  • Minimize multimedia use
  • Use captions and transcripts

Three-dimensional graphics
  • Avoid 3-D for navigation: people are not frogs, we use 2-D input devices
  • Use 3-D for when you need to explore the 3-D objects: surgeons, mechanical engineers, and chemists

The Web is a attention economy. In traditional media the cost of leaving is high and expectations are low (a magazine for instance). On the Web the cost of leaving is low and expectations are not high, so your Web content must give immediate benefit to users.


On average you are on the wrong page. Make it easy for your users to find the right one. In usability studies, 26 to 42% of the time users could not successfully solve tasks (finding things etc.). Site design should stress simplicity, with few distractions, and clear information architecture and navigation.

The home page
Your home page should offer three features:
  • Navigation - directory of main content areas
  • News - restrained summary of most important news
  • Search

How wide should the page be?
600 pixels and resizable [although 580 works best on Macs - ed.]

Splash screens must die

The Home Page vs. interior pages
  • Encourage deep linking
  • Affiliate programs
  • Place logo and site name in the upper left corner of all pages

Design Metaphors
Overused, but can provide a unifying framework for your design and facilitate learning.
  • Shopping carts as interface standard

Your Web site is only a small part of the users' universe; get over it.
  • Navigation should answer three questions:
    • Where am I?
    • Where have I been?
    • Where can I go?
  • Site structure: navigation should visualize the user's current location and alternative movements relative to the structure of the underlying information space.
  • the vice-presidential button: a bad sign
  • importance of user-centered structure
  • Breadth vs. Depth:
    • Depth bread crumbs show full hierarchical path
    • Breadth - show top level destinations

The User Controls Navigation
  • Design creationism vs. design Darwinism: design to fit in with the existing Web conventions
  • Help users manage large amounts of information
  • Future navigation - browser and server dynamically deliver XML site map definition
  • Reducing navigational clutter
    • Aggregation
    • Summarization
    • Filtering (collaborative and quality based)
    • Truncation
    • Example-based representations
  • Avoid 3-D for navigation

A structuring mechanism to explicitly recognized a site organizational unit
  • Use hierarchical list (home -> sales -> norway)
  • Use subsites for not easily hierarchical structured content or to give prominence to levels of hierarchy (experts)
  • Include local and global navigation/search (default to global search)
  • Avoid Boolean search by default
  • For advanced search offer scoped search (not as default), spell checks, and synonym expansion

Search capabilities
50 percent of users are search dominant
20 percent are link dominant
30 percent show mixed behavior

  • Don't search the Web (offer local search only)
  • Global search: if you offer scoped search
    • Explicitly state what part of site they are searching
    • Include global site search button
  • Advanced search:
    • Avoid Boolean search by default
    • Use advanced search if different from simple search page
    • Include spelling checks, and synonym expansion
  • Search results page:
    • Sort best hits first
    • Eliminate duplicates
    • Bubble up quality (FAQs, user rated)
    • Cluster hierarchies (group all pages within directory for example)
  • Page descriptions and keywords
    • Use highly descriptive keywords
  • Use a wide search box: encourages more precise queries
  • See what people search for: 1999 75% are one or 2 word searces
  • Search destination design: highlight search terms
  • Integrating sites and search engines: we need a standardized method of encoding users' queries on the major search engines

URL Design
  • Compound domain names: avoid hyphens
  • Fully specify Roseanne html code (use trailing slashes for directories and domains)
  • URL guessing:
    • Make as short as possible
    • Use common words
    • Lowercase
    • Avoid special characters
  • Archival URLs: don't move pages, and if you do use http 301 redirects
  • Advertising a URL: use offer page not home page
  • Supporting old URLs

User-contributed Content
  • Avoid chat
  • Use discussion: best is user contributed content linked to specific stories
  • General discussions (BBS) tend to degenerate into confusing free for alls


Base your information architecture on your customers' needs instead of your company's own internal thinking. On average you are on the wrong page. Make it easy to find the right one.

Created: Dec. 13, 1999
Revised: Dec. 17, 1999