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Website Design with the user in mind


What makes one Web page easier to use than another? Graphical design, layout, and actual content are the prime components, but one often overlooked area is usability.

Usability is the small thing that make your visit to a site more pleasurable. Speed of interaction is certainly the main component for external Web sites, but there are myriad other factors.

Many of the engagements our firm does put us in the roles of site planners, architects and project managers. In these roles, we often have the opportunity to work with third party companies. Of these third parties, it is usually the graphic design firm who gets the job of designing the page layout and creating the graphical look and feel.

These days, as our practice expands, we find ourselves more often than not in one of two situations: working with a design firm in another city with which we have not worked before, and working with a design firm that has a pre-existing relationship with the client (usually their traditional design supplier).

I have begun to notice a pattern, or more precisely an 'event,' that occurs here.

Usually, at the second or third project meeting where the design group is presenting its progress to the client, I find myself asking the same questions with regards to usability standards. Specifically, HTML and graphic mechanics.

Let me position the scenario for you: the design look and feel have been 'signed off,' and the firm is now propagating these elements, with content, throughout the site architecture. We are meeting to view what the 'whole' site is evolving into.

I notice that the graphics are fuzzy, they load as chunks, the color palettes do not seem to be consistent, and overall speed is choppy.

It is immediately after one of these meetings that I invite their lead people out for a coffee, and lay it all out for them.

What occurs next in the conversation is a generally a lot of "We were going to do that."

Nevertheless, they take a copious amount of notes, usually scribbled on a paper napkin. Having seen this several times now, I have come to the conclusion that we should have a "Usability Best Practices" guide.

The different consultants in our firm are just starting to test this guide in their projects.

As the document sits right now, it is for use when building external Web sites, with bandwidth conservation being its main focus. Here are some of the topic headings: maximum page size (no longer than you can hold your breath), the reusability of breaking up icon bars, how to make text load first, Meta Tags, Alt text, LowSRC/HighSRC, directory names that make sense, directory structure, and JavaScript enhancements.

Now, before I tell you how to get this document for use in your own projects, I want ask you for your comments: e-mail me your favorite usability complaints and/or usability techniquesto I will incorporate the best techniques into the guide.

And if you just want a copy of the finished document, quickly send me a brief e-mail and I will add you to a distribution list.

By: Pankaj Srivastava, Network India.

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