heads in the sand design

...continued from previous page...

Knowing Your Readers

important criteria for assessing users

Ask these questions to guide your development and design decisions:
  1. How much experience do the users have with computers? The Web? Subject matter?
  2. Accessibility: What are the users' working/web-surfing environments? What hardware, software, and browsers do the users have?
  3. Culture: What language(s) do the users speak? How fluent are they? What cultural issues might there be?
  4. What are the users' preferred learning styles?
  5. How much training (if any) will the users receive?
  6. What relevant knowledge/skills do the users already posses?
  7. What functions do the users need from this interface? How do they currently perform these tasks? Why do the users currently perform these tasks the way they do?
  8. What do the users need and expect from this web site?
  9. What are the users' tasks and goals?
  10. What information might the users need, and in what form do they need it?
Okay, fantastic! Now, let's assume the designers followed those Ten Commandments -- and, obviously the designers you showcase in the book did -- but they're all good examples -- can they be good all the time? Won't things still go wrong?
"Good" is such a relative term; that's the whole point of the book -- that there are no hard and fast rules. The mantra of the usability world is, "It depends." These usability professionals even wear T-shirts that say so.
      Good is only as good as the place where a company's business requirements meet the users needs. And that is constantly changing, evolving. So yes, things will still go wrong. You can't make everything usable; you must instead prioritize the elements that must be the most usable and give them the most attention. And of course, there is also the element of subjectivity. What's usable to one is not to another. Personal preferences and pet peeves rule.
So, when things go bump, what do you do?
It's impossible to be perfect, so make mistakes well. That is the essence of contingency design (i.e. design for when things go wrong). No matter how much testing and quality assurance has gone into a Web site, customers will encounter problems. Contingency design features anything that helps visitors get back on track after a problem occurs, including error messaging, graphic designs, instructive text, information architecture, backend systems and customer service.
Okay -- care to expand on contingency design?
Sure. Here are three rules for providing successful contingency design. Applying these rules can dramatically improve a site's performance.
  1. Reduce the need for constant back-and-forth between different pages to fix errors
    Whenever possible, collect form errors and display them on a page that allows your customers to fix them without backtracking. If a form error occurs, redisplay the same form with the errors clearly highlighted. Alternatively, accept the valid information entered and show customers a page where only the problem field is displayed.
  2. Use highly visible color, icons, and directions to highlight the problem Web pages are a confusing jumble to most customers. If there's a problem spot (e.g. the phone number has too many digits), clearly identify it so it's easy for the customer to find. Red text, an error icon, and explanatory text should all be used.
  3. Don't block content with ads Sites shouldn't block critical content with ads or promotional offerings. This is even more important when error messages and other problem-solving devices are involved. Ad revenues may be essential but sites will lose money if annoying ads drive customers away for good.
For more rules, see www.DesignNotFound.com for a collection of real world examples of good and bad contingency design, published by 37signals.
You've got a lot of experience working with creatives. What preconceived notions have you found in creatives that are the most difficult to overcome?

Ilise answers as we continue on the next page...

Designing websites for every audience

Ilise Benun
Ilise Benun is the author of "Designing Web Sites for Every Audience" (HOW DESIGN Books, 2003) and "Self-Promotion Online" (HOW Design Books, 2001). She has written many articles about online marketing and published The Art of Self Promotion, a quarterly newsletter of nuts 'n bolts for manageable marketing, for 10 years.
      Through her Marketing Mentor program, she works closely with creatives to teach them how to fit marketing into their day-to-day lives. She is also a national speaker who has conducted marketing workshops for many trade groups, such as the HOW Design Conference, Graphic Artists Guild, AIGA, Fox River Valley (WI) Ad Club, the Family Business Council, Baruch College's Entrepreneurial Summit and the Usability Professionals' Association.
Copyright: 4/5/2003, all rights reserved

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