Category Archives: usability

Innovating the User Experience on the Web

In the SpoolCast from UIE (User Interface Engineering) on October 7th, 2010, Jared Spool interviews Luke Wroblewski. In this SpoolCast, Jared and Luke discuss Google’s new instant search feature. While Luke was working with Yahoo, he had a chance to work with the same concept called “Live Search”. For Yahoo, this ultimately never made it to market.

The Google Instant has brings up the question if forms in general will begin to change due to these types of concepts. If you stop and think about it though, a lot of forms on the web offer this instant gratification. Sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn both offer a way for you to search that provides instant results.

Well that’s all great but what’s the catch?

Not everybody who implements these instant searches has the ability to take out the distracting results. For example, when you type something into the Google Instant, after the first letter is entered search results are returned, however, Google has no way of knowing what my entire search string is going to be. Google appears to use my recent and common searches and puts those at the top of the list. As Luke and Jared discuss though, not every company will have the resources to implement something quite this well.

Inline Processes

Another topic that Jared and Luke discuss is an in line approach to input. I know your probably thinking, input is already inline in a form, I don’t have to go somewhere else to fill out the form. But stop and think about that. Many times you actually DO have to go somewhere else to fill out a form. Luke brings up the example of Quora for a site that makes good use of inline input. On this site much of the interaction actually occurs through quick pop-up windows instead of taking you to a whole new page. Luke also discusses the Comcast site where he encountered a sign up process that was done entirely in a pop-up window. Inline input is good, but sometimes it just isn’t appropriate. In the case of Comcast, Luke felt it was inappropriate for the sign up process to be in line, rather than in its own page.

This has just been a very brief recap and explanation of the topics discussed by Jared and Luke. Beyond what I have discussed here, Jared and Luke go on to discuss topics such as Apple’s Ping network and reusing information you have already loaded onto another site such as Facebook.


>Navigating the Maze that is the Web


Even the most experienced users of the web come across difficult web sites from time to time.  Navigating the web can quite literally be a maze.  Check out this mouse maze to experience the frustration that comes from inconsistent navigation.  Navigation schemes differ from site to site, and even some times within the same site!  Why do we encounter sites such as those?  Quite simply because the people who create them probably never knew much about web usability.  Now, I’m not trying to knock anyone’s website but let’s face it, not every site on the web is usable.

Tips for increasing web usability….

The following tips come from (

  1. Motivate users – you need to draw in your users to your site
  2. Define user task flow – your site design needs to match what the users expect
  3. Architecture – it’s 80% of usability.  Navigation needs to be intuitive and obvious to the user.  Remember – if they can’t find it in 3 clicks, they’re gone.  
  4. Affordance means obvious – leave no doubt as to what you mean with everything in your design
  5. Replicate – learn from others and use the resources available to you
  6. Usability test along the way – test early and test often to avoid headaches later in the process
  7. Know the technology limitations – Identify and optimize for target browsers and user hardware.Test HTML, JavaScript, etc for compatibility.  
  8. Know user tolerances – Users are impatient. Design for a 2-10 second maximum download. Reuse header graphics so they can load from cache. Avoid excessive scrolling.  
  9. Multimedia – be discriminating – animation can be great for drawing attention but don’t overdo it
  10. Use a stats package – monitor traffic through your site. Which pages pique user interest? Which pages make users leave? Adjust your site accordingly. 

As you can see there is a lot that goes into designing a usable web site.  What may be usable to you, may not be usable to someone else.  I know from experience that what I find to be usable is many times not usable to others.  I have a tendency to look at web sites from the perspective of the developer of the site and I have to make a conscious effort to place myself in the role of a user of the site I am building.  This is not an easy task to accomplish so I rely on the opinions of others to make sure I am on the right track with a site design.  Hopefully these tips can help you create a more usable site.

    >Web Accessibility – If something is accessible does that mean it is usable?

    >Imagine for a moment that you are a disabled and are no longer able to walk on your own. You must use a wheelchair to go about your everyday life. Sure, it would be a big change and some activities would be significantly more difficult to accomplish. However, you would still be able to get around and do the things you needed to do. There are ramps to help you up a curb, public transportation is able to accommodate you, and there are handicap parking spaces to allow you the extra room you need. 

    Now imagine that all of those accommodations I listed are no longer available. It suddenly is much more difficult to accomplish daily tasks isn’t it? This is what happens for some people when viewing and interacting with websites. Notall websites on the Internet were designed with impaired users in mind. 

    So what exactly is web accessibility? 

    According to Derek Featherstone, author of chapters 22-24 in the InterACT with Web Standard book, web accessibility  
             “refers to the practice of making websites usable by people of all abilities anddisabilities” 

    So how can I begin to make my website more accessible? 

    The first step is to better understand accessibilityissues. There are several different types of impairments that affect a user experience. They can be lumped into four main categories.Visual ImpairmentThis includes many disabilities including: 

    • Total blindness
    • Reduced vision
    • Colorblindness
    • Obstructed vision

    For users who are blind, it is important that a website makes good use of text. This is important not only for the main content on a site, but for all of the images as well. Dealing with colorblindness may be even more difficult than dealing with someone who is blind. There are different types of color blindness and this is what makes it difficult to design a website that won’t have problems with colors being unreadable. 

    Mobility or Dexterity Impairment 

    Not all forms of mobility impairment impact a web experience.  Some of the impairments which do affect it are: 

    • Someone with limited movement in arms
    • Someone who may only have one hand
    • Someone with difficulty controlling fine movements
    • Someone who experiences trouble holding on to a mouse
    • Someone with a tremor or shake in their hand

    These individuals will have specialized hardware and software to help them interact with the website and with the computer itself. It is important that the websitebe able to interact seamlessly with this assistive hardware and software. 

    Auditory Impairment 

    While it may seem that users with physical and/or visual impairments may be the primary concerns when it come to web accessibility, auditory impairment is just as important. There is more to the web than visuals. Try watching some YouTube videos without any sound. They aren’t very useful are they? This can be remedied with solutions such as closed captioning. 

    Cognitive Impairment 

    This type of impairment can be further broken down into different types. These types are: 

    • Memory-related
    • Problem-solving
    • Attention deficits
    • Reading, linguistic, and verbal comprehension
    • Math comprehension
    • Visual comprehension

    It can be a very daunting task to try and meet the needs of each type of cognitive impairment, but a good website will find the right balance to be accessible to the greatest number of people. 

    Whew! That was a lot! 

    Web accessibility is a large and complicated part of website design. There is a lot to keep up with and it isn’t always an easy task to do. Actually to be quite honest, it is quite a difficult task to do! I hope that I have helped you in your understanding of web accessibility and how to help your website become more accessible. Below I have provided a list of resources to provide further knowledge on the subject. This is by no means an exhaustive list so please add any resources you have found to be helpful! 


    The Web Accessibility Initiative – 
    Web AIM – 
    Section 508 –