The end of homemade websites

Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox for October 14. Web services will free individual site designers from having to program and design common features. This will decrease business costs, increase usability, and let designers focus on and improve features that are unique to each site.

Visio wireframe stencil updated (Michael Angeles)

I updated the wireframe stencils I created for Visio. Added:

  • Title, note and comment text blocks (snarfed from Visio flowchart sets)
  • Greeked text in 1 paragraph or 1 sentence blocks
  • Bulleted lists
  • Transparent gray box outline
Modified:
  • Took paragraph padding out of heading shapes for better alignment along grid and guides
Zeldman navigation review at Adobe Studio

Jeffrey Zeldman leads an online review of website navigation menus at Adobe Studio.

Blind and Low Vision Users

Paper by Edward Hung, Department of Computer Science, University of Maryland discussing accessibility/usability issues when designing web sites for people who are blind or have low vision abilities. By definition, accessibility is a category of usability: software that is not usable by a particular user is not accessible to that person. Just like other usability measures, it is necessary to define accessibility with respect to the user task requirements and needs. For example, graphical user interfaces are not very accessible to blind users, but relatively accessible to deaf users. ... The purpose of this article is to provide recommendations, guidelines, examples and resources to web site developers on how to develop web sites accessible to users that are blind or have low vision. thanks LucDesk

Firms Must Cut Through Macromedia Flash Myths

Forrester brief (requires subscription) by Randy Souza advising that companies should not discount Flash because of commonly held myths, but should take steps to make sure implementations are successful. Firms can use Macromedia's Flash technology to add compelling, cross-platform interactivity to their sites. But companies must avoid common pitfalls by focusing design teams on functional tools that support user goals. Myths:

  • Using Flash will drive away visitors who don't have the plug-in.
  • Flash will result in glacially slow download times.
  • Flash is only useful for animation and splash screens.
  • Flash kills usability
Fitting Flash into the design process:
  • Force Flash "experts" to serve user goals.
  • Embrace Generator.
  • Build a repository of approved Flash interface elements.
Jakob Nielson video

Internet Guru Speaks on Web Usability. The Internet has increasingly become a part of our everyday lives. More and more people venture out into cyber space in search of anything from merchandise to scholarly discourse. Despite the variety of materials that can be found on the Internet, one thing has remained the same: the user. How do web sites keep users coming back? The issue of web usability seeks to address that problem, and believe or not, the answer is 'simple'. Jakob Nielsen, a world-renowned expert on Web Usability, will address those and other questions at the next icompass seminar scheduled for October 1, 2001. Nielsen, who earned a Ph.D. from the Technical University of Denmark, has authored several books and lectures around the world on the subject of web usability. According to his research, web sites have become much too complicated.Users are discouraged by graphics-intensive pages that load slowly; poor search engines that do not rank results according to relevance; and pages that are not clearly labeled. These are only a few of the mistakes that are commonly made by web designers. Web Usability measures how well a web site suits the user's needs: is it easy to use, succinct and understandable? In an age where the complexity of a site's visual affects and graphics design is thought by many to rank it in the higher echelons of web design, a site that is simple and easy to use will always keep users coming back. In the end, people are looking for sites that offer the convenience that being able to dial up from home is supposed to offer them. click here for access to video

Collecting Feedback About Your Website's Search Interface

Jakob Nielsen and Kara Pernice Coyne tell you how to to test your website's search interface for usability. This short article is extracted from the Nielsen Norman Group ecommerce study. thanks EH, the face of IA

The myth of convergence

Convergence. They've been preaching it for many years now. I assure you that it just isn't going to happen. Not today, not in the future. The media may be going all bonkers about it. That doesn't make it more likely. Nor will wishful thinking by companies that have invested large chunks of money in "convergence devices". Full story at: http://madman.weblogs.com/stories/storyReader$104

On the social construction of information (architecture)

v2 on the social construct of information and how it relates to IA work -- specifically drawing from specific examples of IA work in Japan. As information architecture becomes a more global discipline, it has to account for deep differences in the way information is handled across cultures. Very simply, and not necessarily obviously, different cultures think in widely divergent ways about what constitutes a fact, and what can be done with one. That old thing about meaning being socially constructed comes swinging into play with all the force of a sumo ejecting another from the ring. This directly affects the structure of a given website, sure, but even more importantly it affects the process of site development. thanks EH and infodesign

Establishing a Dedicated Interaction Design/Usability Team

WebWord pointed to Scott Larson & Matte Scheinker's article about starting an in-house interaction design or usability team in your organization. Are you a Web manager at a small company that wants to make sure your Web site is meeting your customers' needs? Do you work at a company where there is a new focus on customer experience? Are you tasked with recruiting and developing a dedicated interaction design or usability team to help ensure your company's success? If you answered yes to any of these questions, this article will provide guidance on what to look for and what questions to ask in creating a dedicated interaction design/usability team, so you can get on with the business of running your company. (For those of you looking for an interaction design or usability job, you can use the resources and advice in this article in reverse to find a company that needs you)

Talking Moose's Weblog Manifesto

WebWord pointed to Talking Moose's manifesto for the weblogger which is right-on.

Breadth vs. Depth

Victor Lombardi posted a link to the Microsoft paper he found on Peter Merholz's site some time ago talking about the breadth versus depth issue. So I am blogging it: "Web Page Design: Implications of Memory, Structure and Scent for Information Retrieval" by Kevin Larson and Mary Czerwinski. Much is known about depth and breadth tradeoff issues in graphical user interface menu design. We describe an experiment to see if large breadth and decreased depth is preferable, both subjectively and via performance data, while attempting to design for optimal scent throughout different structures of a website. A study is reported which modified previous procedures for investigating depth/breadth tradeoffs in content design for the web. Results showed that, while increased depth did harm search performance on the web, a medium condition of depth and breadth outperformed the broadest, shallow web structure overall.

eCriteria.net Launches Open Database Project.

SoCal based web site development firms web based database solutions provider site www.ecriteria.net launches its new free Open Database Project. This hitting the news when anything free should be getting attention. Details of the project may be found at the "Spotlight" sections at the home page or by following the link : www.ecriteria.net/open. Based on eCriteria technology, the ODBP allows free access to both business and personal database content in a broad range of categories. The project is likened to a search engine for database content. Individuals, businesses, and organizations may use the site to access thousands of public databases publised by other users for free and unlimited consumption. Users need not contribute data in order to access the repository. If the data author allows it, users may also download search results to their desktop PC in plain text, or xml format. Users may elect to create their own databases and contribute the data content to the project. Using a web database publishing wizard process provided by eCriteria.net, users may import data from applications such as microsoft excel and access, and create a new web databse in 15 minutes without any programming or database knowledge. Users creating new databases may choose database names in a manner similar to selecting domain names. For instance, an organization might pick its trademark name for a database, so that when someone searches ODBP, entering this keyword will locate data associated with the organization. There are no limits on searchs, updates, or creating with the ODBP (open database project).

Pop-up ads soon to invade meatspace

In stores soon--floating product ads. Shoppers may soon be able to see images of advertised products floating in mid-air as they browse in stores. That's the story according to Reuters. Hungarian-U.S. firm Holomedia on Monday unveiled a new projection device that could make this a reality. "This innovative new media is based on American hardware and Hungarian software," said Csaba Rakosy, managing director of Holomedia, at a news conference. An appliance the size of a vending machine projects still or moving images about 40cm (16 inches) in size. The human eye perceives these images as floating in mid-air, offering what developers say is a very effective marketing tool. As if the tiny wireless video camera didn't haunt me enough. I can imagine seeing one of these at Circuit City -- picture the people thinking they're halucinating the X-10 camera popping up before their eyes, running out of the store shrieking. That's just what you want to instill consumer confidence.

Amazon lets you browse before buying

Amazon gets it right again -- this time allowing you to browse images of book pages on the Web before you buy. According to Reuters, Amazon's "Look Inside the Book" feature debutted Wednesday to include "images of covers, flaps and actual pages for some 25,000 book titles." The new feature was reportedly added as a result of customer requests. I have to say that this feature is very nice for books with photos such as art and design books. For some time, on sites like NY Times Book Review section you could read TOC's and sample chapters from books. But Amazon takes this a step further by adding a new tabbed interface to books with browsable samples. This is just another example of how Amazon successfully uses customer feedback to enhance the experience with their product.

User to User Support

Derek Powazek discusses in WebTechniques how to take advantage of user communities and the expertise of your audience by enabling user to user communication for product support. People need to share their ideas, opinions, and knowledge online. Just look at all of the people who write lengthy book reviews on Amazon. I'm sure not one of them is thinking, "It's very important to me that Amazon sells more copies of this book." Instead, they're thinking, "I really loved this book, and I want everyone to know it." Giving these people the ability to talk to each other on your site can benefit your enterprise. Not only are you empowering your users to help each other, but you're also getting a front row seat to the questions people ask about your product or service. Companies used to have to pay for that kind of thing—it was called focus groups.

Smoothing the Path: Customer Satisfaction Drives Revenues

In the November WebTechniques, Challis Hodge discusses how to keep customers at the core of your business strategy. Customer service and customer relationship management (CRM) are touted as critical success factors for companies that want to seriously compete and thrive into the next decade. As technology and manufacturing fast become commodities, the customer relationship is the only area where real competitive advantage is still possible.

Taxonomy of information visualization techniques

Nooface is pointing to a comrehensive collection of data visualization techniques -- bar chart, scatter plot, histogram, etc. -- compiled by Rika Furuhata.

Always have a backup plan

Article in Cooper Interactive Newsletter by designer, Gretchen Anderson about preventing failures in applications by planning for them. Make sure users can't inadvertently cause their software to fail. By the same token, we also encourage designers to "make errors impossible" by designing software that anticipates the actions of its users. Nevertheless, things will go wrong. By anticipating failures, and designing backup plans like those described below, you can minimize the impact of unexpected problems on the user.

Navigating isn't fun

Alan Cooper wants navigation schemes to go away. Or at least he thinks users want it to go away. If you want to design simpler, better Websites for business or commerce, try putting more interaction into fewer screens so your users don't have to navigate so much. ... Once a beginner's enthusiasm wears off after a few uses of the Web, she would just like to get her work done in the simplest and most straightforward way possible. Instead of building a complex structure of pages, a better design technique is to concentrate all of the interaction in a single screen, relieving the user of the need to explore, of the need to navigate at all. To the user, each successive screen is the equivalent of a new window or dialog in conventional software. My axiom is: "A window is another room. Have a good reason to go there." If the user is working on information on one screen, don't send her to another screen to work on that same information. The better place is right there on screen number one. See also the related article Navbars must go.