Thursday, 27 August 2009

Research-based usability guidelines

This site should be near the top of the list in everyone's bookmarks folder.'s suite of resources have been around for a long while, and the site's just had an overhaul. is a one-stop source for government web designers to learn how to make websites more usable, useful, and accessible. The site addresses a broad range of factors that go into web design and development. - learn how to make websites more usable

Before you embark on any significant usability testing, check your site or application against the recommendations covered here. This document (pdf'ed by chapter) may save you time and effort.

Throughout your Web design or redesign project, you should take advantage of what is already known about best practices for each step of the process. The Research-Based Web Design and Usability Guidelines, compiled through an extensive process of research and review, bring you those best practices.
Research-based usability guidelines from

Persona resources #2

I particularly like this introduction to personas by Tina Calabria at Step Two Designs:

An introduction to personas and how to create them - Tina Calabria

It includes links to some impressively detailed resources I've yet to explore fully from Cooper Interaction Design:

Online journal of persona development - Cooper Interaction Design

And further to my last post on persona, where I covered a blog promoting a book I've been reading by Steve Mulder. A set of slides from Steve Mulder:

The User Is Always Right: Making Personas Work for Your Site - presentation slides by Steve Mulder

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Summary text usability

In this article Jakob Neilsen describes the iterative process he went through developing text for a tweet (a short message sent out via Twitter).

The principles apply to writing short items on webpages that you want to grab the reader's attention with: headings, summary paragraphs and link text.

Neilsen's conclusion on this kind of writing:

In fact, the shorter it is, the more important it is to design text for usability.

Twitter Postings: Iterative Design - article by Jakob Neilsen

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Persona creation resources

What's a persona? Part of a definition, taken from the Fluid Project:

Personas are a model used to describe users' goals, skills, abilities, technical experience and context... They are used by the design team (and larger project team) to describe, and keep front and center the user(s) for whom the system will be built.

I've been working on persona development the last couple of months.

The Fluid Project wiki is proving to be a great resource.

Persona development resources - the Fluid Project

I also bought a book the other month: "The User Is Always Right" by Steve Mulder with Ziv Yaar. Steve's blog promotes the book and he also posts links to related material and resources.

Practical Personas blog by Steve Mulder

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Branding and usability

A couple of interesting articles from Jared Spool on branding.

Firstly, an old one based around Jared's observations of user experience on big, well-established brand sites.
...eBay's direct-experience branding works better than Ford's indirect-message branding at giving users a positive opinion of the brand. Therefore, we believe that usability is essential for effective branding. It appears that any obstacles users face will directly (and negatively) affect how they perceive the brand.
Branding and Usability by Jared Spool

A second, more recent article giving an overview of his research on a range of e-commerce competitors. Jared observes that when people are done shopping on certain e-commerce sites, their perceptions of the brand are often strengthened, while other sites seem to consistently weaken their brands.
...when we create designs that focus on ensuring users accomplish their goals, we are likely having a long-term positive effect on the strength of the brand.
Determining How Design Affects Branding by Jared Spool

The merits of quick, lo-fi testing

A recent article on Jared Spool's website by Dana Chisell on the merits of quick-and-dirty usability testing. And also her opinions on when this isn't the best way to go.
"Most of the value in doing testing – let’s say about 70% – comes from just watching someone use a design."
It's definitely my preferred approach. Possibly because it's often the only route available...

Testing in the Wild, Seizing Opportunity by Dana Chisnell

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

McGovern on website redesigns

Gerry's just come back from a summer break but judging by the tone of his latest newsletter post he could do with another one.

Still, he makes a strong and valid point - as is usually the case.

"...the site was "redesigned and ready to help you plan your adventures. Take a few minutes to customize your account profile to ensure you take advantage of all that our new site has to offer."

And you know what, I didn't take those few minutes.

...I just wanted to quickly check availability and see if there were any good deals. I had zero interest in designs, redesigns...

...I just wanted the website to work."

Harsh, but true...

Full article: Nobody cares about your website by Gerry McGovern

Content management online seminars by Gerry McGovern

Gerry McGovern is well worth listening to when it comes to content management.

Of course, there's a sales pitch involved but then his online seminars are free and there's lots to learn.

I've found his approach to task-driven web publishing easy to understand, and equally important, easy to communicate to others.

I've done a number of surveys based on his approach and found the data collected a very useful extra dimension when viewed alongside webstats.

Seeing the relative importance of a small number of website tasks way ahead of numerous others is pretty powerful and great when helping content owners focus on the really important stuff.

Gerry McGovern's online seminar archive - free videos and slides to download

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Usable web forms

Forms that Work by Caroline Jarrett is a book that nicely compliments Ginny Redish's Letting Go of the Words. Both sit on my bookshelf.

Web forms are incredibly frustrating when they're badly designed, and can be a barrier to successful eCommerce or even just basic interaction between the web publisher and their readers.

Caroline's website has useful free resources, so there's lots to learn without even buying the book.

Forms that Work - free online resources and book promotion

Web writing resources

Letting go of the words book cover

Without a shadow of a doubt, there is one book out there ahead of the rest on writing for the web:

Free sample chapters of Letting Go of the Words

Editing that Works is a website inspired, at least in part, by Ginny's book. It's got a couple of sections worth a look - the principles, and a list of recommended resources.

Editing that Works - Caroline Jarrett's website

Usability testing resources

A list of resources, articles and do-it-yourself materials for those interested in usability and the user experience from Information & Design, an Australian usability company.

Usability resources from Information & Design

Lots of great stuff here. For those new to usability testing, read the page on common mistakes before you go any further.

Usability testing mistakes

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Eye tracking research - an insight into online reading and navigation behaviour

A couple of great repositories of eye tracking study findings.

Eye track 3 was the third (surprise!) publicly published study by The Poynter Institute, the Estlow Center for Journalism & New Media, and Eyetools. It provides advice based on their findings on:
  • Homepage designs
  • Eye viewing patterns
  • Headlines & blurbs
  • Headline size
  • Font size
  • Navigation
  • Photos & images
  • Compact & extended pages
The Best of Eyetrack III: What We Saw When We Looked Through Their Eyes

Jakob Nielsen has published lots of his findings over the years. He has a page on his site that pulls all these articles together, the most famous one being the F-shaped pattern for online reading.

Jakob Nielsen’s eyetracking research summaries

Effective search results pages - through hard work, not technology

An excellent 2 part article by Jared Spool of on what makes effective search results pages.

Having watched hundreds of people search on numerous sites he draws out attributes that make some search engine results pages more effective than others.

The bottom line is that you can't just trust the technology driving your search engine to deliver an effective service. Understanding your users and tweaking your results pages accordingly is the route to ensuring the most visited part of your site does the job you want it to.

Producing Great Search Results: Harder than It Looks, Part 1

Producing Great Search Results: Harder than It Looks, Part 2