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Improving website usability

Alex Christie

17 March 2008

When it comes to web design and accessibility there is one man who stands head and shoulders above most, his name is Jakob Nielson. The name should be familiar to those who have studied usability and user-interface design.

Back in 1999 he wrote about 10 design elements that can virtually improve any websites usability, all of which remain true today:

Referring to his original list, I have summarised the 10 main points Nielson provided.

1. Always have a Company name/logo on every page, and have it link to the homepage, except on the homepage itself (and he highly emphasises that a page should not have a link, that links to the current page).

2. Provide a search facility if the website has over 100 pages. The reasons for this are obvious, the more pages you have, the harder it is to find a specific piece of information.

3. Page titles and headlines should ‘make sense when read out-of-context in a search engine results listing’ and these should ‘clearly explain what the page is about’.

4. ‘Facilitate scanning’, by structuring the page into blocks with headings and subheadings, you provide the user with the opportunity to miss out sections of what they deem to be irrelevant to the purpose of why they are visiting your website.

5. Avoid cramming too much content on a single topic/subject into a single infinite page. Instead, the content should be broken up, with a primary overview page linking to several secondary pages that focus on a specific subtopic.

6. Use thumbnail images for product pages which link to larger images which give enough detail for the user to see. Primary product pages should also not be too image intensive.

7. Referring to the previous point. Thumbnails should focus or zoom on the most relevant aspect of the much larger original image. This is achieved through the use of appropriate cropping and resizing.

8. Use the title attribute for links, informing the user before they click a link, where a link will click to.

9. Ensure all important pages are accessible to users with disabilities.

10. And finally: "Do the same as everybody else: if most big websites do something in a certain way, then follow along since users will expect things to work the same on your site. Remember Jakob’s Law of the Web User Experience: users spend most of their time on other sites, so that’s where they form their expectations for how the Web works".

Source: Jakob Nielson’s website www.useit.com, on usability and accessibility.

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