06 Sep Governing good Web-site design
Frustration is a common experience among marketers trying to judge the quality of a Web-site design. Everyone wants to implement the best-looking web site, but opinions of what constitutes a great site vary.
Fortunately, good Web sites aren’t based on opinion. They are based on evidence.
Although the “look and feel” of many well-conceived Web sites may vary greatly, good sites tend to share a number of characteristics. These characteristics provide the basis of the “Research-Based Web Design and Usability Guidelines” developed by the federal government as part of its usability initiative.
The guidelines provide marketers with a good overview and deep understanding of the wide range of Web design issues that they may encounter while managing a Web site. The guidelines provide marketers with standards that can be used to judge designs. Marketers can request that the designers and developers they work with follow relevant portions of the guidelines and can use them to set priorities.
Sanjay J. Koyani, a senior usability specialist for the Health and Human Services Web management team, said the government offers 187 research-based guidelines and plans to add nearly 50 more in 2004.
While the number of guidelines can seem daunting, the usability initiative’s site provides a tool developed in cooperation with AARP that allows site visitors to sort guidelines based on their overall relevance and the amount of supporting evidence. This means its possible to identify and focus on the most important guidelines for success.
For example, the four guidelines that score highest in both relevance and supporting evidence are:
Use an iterative design approach.
Designs should be tested with site visitors before they are implemented. Use paper prototypes to test the design and make revisions to the design based on your findings.
Provide useful content.
While this seems to be common sense, it’s not uncommon for sites to contain a company’s sales pitch instead of the information that site visitors are looking for. Studies have reported that content is more important than navigation, visual design, functionality, and interactivity.
Ensure visual consistency.
Design creativity must be balanced with consistency. Studies show that tasks performed on more consistent interfaces resulted in reduced task completion times, fewer errors, higher user satisfaction and a shorter learning time.
Use black text on plain, high-contrast backgrounds.
Use white text on dark backgrounds sparingly. people read black text on a white background up to 32 percent faster
Starting in September 2004, the guidelines will also be available in HTML instead of as a series of PDF files. The site will also offer subscriptions to a new monthly newsletter focusing on Web design and usability research.
“We want to raise the bar in what people expect from their own web site,” said Janice Nall, manager of the Usability Solutions Group in the Office of Electronic Government and Technology for General Services Administration. “The guidelines provide project managers with the criteria and expectations they need to make design decisions based on the facts.”
“When you make good design decisions early, you prevent a lot of potential problems,” she said.
Troy Janisch is president and founder of the Icon Interactive Group (www.iconinteractive.com), an industry leader helping companies integrate Internet and other Interactive media into sales channels, marketing strategies, and overall branding. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.