Designing Easy-to-use Websites - A Hands-on Approach to Structuring Successful Websites | WebReference

Designing Easy-to-use Websites - A Hands-on Approach to Structuring Successful Websites

Book Review: Designing Easy-to-use Websites

A Hands-on Approach to Structuring Successful Websites

by Andy King (

Designing Easy-to-use Websites is much more than a conventional usability book, it's an attempt to make us rethink the entire Web design process. Instead of directly jumping into the fun stuff of design and layout, as most designers tend to do, Vanessa Donnelly advocates a much more structured approach to Web site development that includes analysis and design techniques that enable a Web development team to design usable websites.

The process she lays out is not unlike a well-run software development project (only with continuous updates). Based on her own extensive usability research, and experience as IBM's chief usability guru, Vanessa has compiled a comprehensive, high-level, uber-guide to creating high quality, scaleable, and maintainable Web sites.

Donnelly's thesis? Usability is much more than layout and link colors, it bubbles up naturally from a well-planned database- driven site using a content management system that scales well, raises productivity, and dramatically reduces operating budgets.

The idea is to plan for expansion early, and separate the different components of content into manageable, discrete chunks (content, layout, style, navigation, and classification) that all exist independently, and can be assembled using a database. The days of lone webmasters coding entire Web sites by hand are over. In order to succeed, today's e-business sites need a content management system, extensive up-front planning and usability testing throughout the entire development process.

The author first shows how the current ad-hoc one-HTML-page-at-a- time methods are not working, and can cause problems as sites scale. Maintenance, version control, access, archiving, deletion, and classification are all made more difficult and ad-hoc by using a manual process. By separating out the various components of Web sites into discrete orthogonal chunks, and using a structured approach to planning and deployment, you can avoid many of the problems static hand-coded Web sites are experiencing today. As these "first-generation" sites grow larger, the maintenance problems multiply and productivity suffers, and they become an unwieldly mess of broken links and outdated information.

The solution? A database flowing into templates of course.

Unlike Veen and Rosenfeld and any other authors I've seen, Donnelly shows the entire Web site development process, and puts each task into words and UML diagrams, making the entire process clear. Business, user, and content analysis examples are shown, plus requirements for content providers, UI engineers, info architects, and content managers, along with checklists of best practices along the way. Finally, the site requirements and a "clear understanding of the user tasks that must be supported" are transformed into information models using standard UML diagrams so popular in the software development industry.

The net result? Think of this book as a success engine, with handy success templates and best practices. While the entire process is more than most webmasters would undertake, the book gives you marvelous goals to shoot for, and provides inspiration for improvement. The size and scope of this book are so large that a full review is outside the bounds of this newsletter (you'll just have to buy the book :), but this is an impressive effort to encapsulate the entire Web development and usability process in a logical way.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 16, 2001 edition of the WebReference Update Newsletter.

By Andy King and
Created: January 17, 2001
Revised: January 17, 2001