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Conference Report: Usability and Web Site Success

As developers, we need to pay attention to the usability of the web sites that we create. In this report David outlines the happenings of the recent Interface 7 East Conference.

Author Info:
By: David Poteet
Rating: 5 stars5 stars5 stars5 stars5 stars / 4
December 01, 2002
  1. · Conference Report: Usability and Web Site Success
  2. · All About Success
  3. · Patterns That Indicate User Failure
  4. · Conclusion

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Conference Report: Usability and Web Site Success - All About Success
(Page 2 of 4 )

"User Interface" isn't the best title for this conference. It's actually about everything that contributes to the overall success of a Web site or interactive system, including:
  • Writing clearly, effectively and persuasively
  • Reducing risk by researching your users & brand before you design
  • Designing interactions that motivate users to action
  • Best practices for user-centered design
  • User testing as a design tool
  • Tackling organizational issues that can hinder or help your site
  • Structuring your site in a way that makes sense to the most users
  • User research that helps you make informed design decisions
When I asked Jared Spool about the conference's focus, he said "We take a broad approach to the idea of 'user interface.' We see it as anything that affects the user's ability to accomplish their goals." Building on that broad definition, UIE envisions itself on a 100-year mission "to increase the quality of life by eliminating the frustration caused by technology."

Is it working? According to Spool, the results are still unclear.

"We haven't seen a significant improvement in people's ability to accomplish their goals in the six-plus years we've been testing Web sites," Spool said.

No wonder it's a 100-year mission.

All the same, sites with better usability significantly outperform those with poor usability.

What did we learn about building successful Web sites?

The conference workshops each offered practical advice applicable to any company involved in building Web sites or designing user interfaces. Workshop attendees were also challenged to think outside their traditional roles.

David White, executive producer of the Lands' End Web site, said his team found Gerry McGovern and Nick Usborne's seminars on copy and content to be particularly valuable.

"One of the challenges to improving usability of Web sites is dealing with the areas that are typically taken for granted. Copy is one of those areas. It takes effort to craft messages that work well on the Web."

The more technical members of the Lands' End team also appreciated Molly Holzschlag and Eric Meyer's seminar on more efficient ways to build pages with Cascading Style Sheets and other HTML standards.

Additional information about the conference speakers and workshops is available at www.uiconf.com, where a good overview of each session is provided.

Helping Users Reach Their Goals
Through their testing with e-commerce and other large sites, UIE identified seven main types of pages used as someone moves from the starting point to their destination. Each page type has a unique purpose, and some sites do a better job with certain page types than others.

For example, a "Gallery" page offers a choice of several content pages (such as product detail pages). The gallery page's function is to help the user choose a content page without having to click down into each detail page. If the gallery page doesn't have enough differentiating information, users end up "pogo-sticking," or jumping down and up repeatedly while trying to make a decision. Pogo-sticking significantly reduces a user's chance of success.

According to UIE, we're just beginning to figure out how to do this right on sites whose structure is fairly constant. They said developers really have no idea how to tackle large scale intranets and community-published sites that have millions of pages and thousands of authors, few of whom are trained in information design. Some of UIE's current research is focused on how to build usable sites that are also constantly evolving.
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