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Web Usability Guidelines

How to make your Web Site more usable

  • Know your users - Identify all the different audiences (user groups) who will use your site. Be sure that your design meets their needs. On the Web "One size" rarely fits all.
  • Architecture - Navigation is 80% determined by the structure of your site. Studies show that users must find what they are looking for within 3 clicks or they give up. Too many layers make your information unfindable. Reduce the vertical layers in your site.
  • Taskflow - Know who your users (audiences) are, what their tasks are and what their online environment is. Page flow must match taskflow. This may have nothing to do with your organization structure.
  • User Impatience - Users are impatient. The average session time on the University Web site is under 5 minutes. Help the user maximize their results during their visit to your site. Design for a 2 - 10 second load time. Reuse headers and other graphics so the user's browser can get them from cache instead of download. Excessive scrolling should be avoided. Test your page over the slowest connection your user might use.
  • Be Obvious - Make the page's controls obvious to avoid confusion between buttons, graphics, banners and emblems. Icons should be meaningful not just cute.
  • Motivate - Design for the specific users needs. Make it easy for them. Motivate (draw, direct) different users clearly to the parts of your site that fit them. "One size" seldom fits all. Design for the different audiences and motivate to the appropiate areas of your site.
  • Replicate and Reuse - Use well designed templates for the 7-12 page types. Use the templates for all pages beneath the top level page. This saves you time and makes the look an feel more coherent and easier for the user to understand. Consider color coding sections rather than make different designs. Caching of replicated elements makes pages load faster.
  • Useability Test - Test users with prototypes early in the design process. LISTEN to what they tell you and redesign. Do not wait until you are done to discover user issues. It makes more work for you to find out late in the development.
  • Limit the Glitz - Multimedia, animation and sound can be used to draw interest to specific parts of a page or site. But stop when the attention is drawn or the information is conveyed. Too much of these elements is distracting and slows the load down. Remember what you are trying to accomplish. If you are not in the entertainment industry limit the entertainment to useful attention direction. Limit the use of strong colors. They can be dirtracting. Beware of "favorite" colors. User test everything.
  • Technology's Limits - Know the limits of the technology. Identify the hardware browsers and browser versions used by your audience (users) and test your HTML, JavaScripts, Java, sound and video on those environments. Test your site in those environments.
  • Web Reporting Programs - Use a Web reporting program to monitor traffic through your site. Discover what pages are most popular and get peak usage. Try to determine why. What pages make a user leave? Do some pages produce more errors than other? Fix what you find. Redesign to take advantage of the what works and redesign what does not work.
  • Be Findable - If they can not find you your usability is zero. Design your pages and write your copy with the search services in mind. Placement in the search services reports is determined by the wording and key word density of your copy. Do not put you page title only in a graphic. The search service robots needs to see the title in text. They can not index the graphic because they can not read it. Every search service indexs differently. READ their guidelines. But do not believe all they say. They do have trade secrets. You many need a gateway page for each search service you want to place highly in. Realize this is a moving target and revisit and evaluate it regularly. Frames block search service indexing. Use them only where findability is not an issue. Use Meta tags for keywords and descriptions.