Web Site Usability
The Usability section includes helpful articles and tutorials on Web site usability, Web site usability testing, human factors, and Web sites or sections of Web sites devoted to usability - all to help create and maintain user-friendly, user-centered Web sites that your visitors will find easy to use and will want to return to visit again. In addition, you'll find helpful book recommendations on usability and creating user-friendly, user-centered Web sites by Jakob Nielsen, Donald Norman, Steve Krug, 37 Signals (Matthew Linderman, Jason Fried), Marie Tahir, Hoa Loranger, and others.
Do you know of some helpful Web sites, books, or other resources related to Website usability, Web design and usability, Web or Internet usability, a Website usability study, universal design, or Website usability testing? Recommendations are welcome and encouraged!
On this page:
Articles and Tutorials on Usability
- Breadcrumb Navigation Increasingly Useful
Should you or shouldn't you use breadcrumb navigation? Does it really matter? This April 2007 article by Jakob Nielsen explains the reasons why breadcrumb navigation actually does matter and how it's helpful to users, whether or not they actually click on any of the breadcrumb navigation links. “So, despite the merely mid-sized benefits, the overall cost-benefit analysis comes out quite strongly in favor of breadcrumbs.” [Article/tutorial dated 04/10/2007, by Jakob Nielsen, Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox.]
- A Business Case for Usability
“Until usability gets embedded in the processes of your company, you'll probably find you need to justify the investment. Fortunately, usability initiatives deliver a major return on investment: it's not unusual for usability projects to return benefits of 5-10 times their cost in the first year alone.” This article explains the details. [Article/tutorial dated 10/01/2007, by David Travis, Userfocus.co.uk, via WebsiteTips.com's Usability Articles, Tutorials section.]
- Conceptualize Your Site
By Sarahjane White for CNet Builder.com. Four-part tutorial, article about how to plan your Web site, including basic questions, the planning stages (mission, users, mock-ups, feedback) [Article dated 02/20/2000 by Sarahjane White for Builder.com.]
- Criteria for Optimal Web Design (Designing for Usability)
by Michael L. Bernard, for Optimal Web Design site. This is a must read for web usability and optimal Web design. Article provides authoritative, clearly written information with questions and answers and references to statistical data about what works and what doesn't and why. Issues covered: frames, fonts and sizing, banners, navigation and architecture, placement of information (home page link, arrangement of links, embedded links, more), effective use of images, interface design, major user annoyances, younger and older audiences, vision and usability, general web conventions and related guidelines, use of sitemaps, importance of whitespace, bulleted lists and links. [Article dated 03/30/2003 by Michael L. Bernard for Optimal Web Design.]
- Designing Web Usability
At WDVL, chapter 4 excerpt from the book by the same name, by Jakob Nielsen, published by New Riders. Excellent chapter on design for search engine implementation at your site. Good insight. [Article dated 05/04/2001 by Jakob Nielsen, via WDVL.]
- Do's and Don'ts for Achieving Usability in Design
Great outline and quick reference for important points in usability. [Article by Usability First.]
- Eye Tracking: Eye Candy Vs. I Can Do
Explanation of eye tracking for Web sites, the advantages and disadvantages, using heat maps with usability testing and page design, more. [Article/tutorial dated 06/2007, by Mark McElhaw, Webcredible.co.uk, via WebsiteTips.com's Usability Articles, Tutorials section.]
- Feature Richness and User Engagement
Full of insight about user engagement, interaction with simple and feature-rich applications, using Photoshop's varied versions as examples (Photoshop CS, Photoshop Elements, Photoshop Album). Then discusses websites and the need for simplicity, especially since “the user engagement level with websites is incredibly low, as dictated by information foraging: people don't commit easily to any individual site, because it's so easy to get to other sites. Skimming the cream from each site is usually the superior browsing strategy.” Intranets, on the other hand, typically have mid-level user engagement, and Nielsen explains why. In addition, he explains how websites can achieve high-level user engagement and user loyalty, using Amazon.com as an example of simple to feature-rich features, with simple features for new users (basic shopping cart) and increasingly more features (one-click shopping) for return customers. “Typically, when new prospects first visit your site, you're simply one of ten sites on the SERP. The only way they'll shortlist your site is if you can convince them in two minutes. Thus, websites should have almost no features: focus on the words.” Read the article for details and much more. [Article/tutorial dated 08/06/2007, by Jakob Nielsen, Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox.]
- From Ballots to Cockpits, Questions of Design
by Kenneth Chang, New York Times, January 23, 2001. Fascinating article interviewing Donald A. Norman, principal of the Nielsen Norman Group, author of "The Design of Everyday Things" (Doubleday/Currency, 1990, 2002), and emeritus professor of psychology at UC San Diego. Read about obvious examples of usability gone bad, good usability, and more. (Note: you'll need a free subscription, registration to NY Times to access article.) [Article dated 01/23/2001 by Kenneth Chang, for New York Times.]
- Growing a Business Website: Fix the Basics First
Covers the top 3 design priorities: communicating clearly, providing information users want, offering simple, consistent page design, and clear navigation. Avoid unnecessary technologies and unnecessary fancy bells and whistles. Good insight here. [Article/tutorial dated 03/20/2006, by Jakob Nielsen, Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox.]
- How to Embed Usability & UCD (User-centered Design) Internally
Insightful, real-world, practical advice on how to introduce and embed usability and user-centered Web design within a company. [Article/tutorial dated 09/2007, by by Ismail Ismail, Webcredible.co.uk, via WebsiteTips.com's Usability Articles, Tutorials section.]
- Information, Architecture, and Usability
by Peter Morville for WebReview.com. Interesting take on the expertise needed to be a successful Web architect. [Article dated 03/12/1999 by Peter Morville for Web Review.]
- Interview with Vanessa Donnelly
by Andy King, WebReference.com. Vanessa Donnelly describes critical aspects of usable web designs, provides a top 10 list of usability do's and don'ts, more. Great overview of Web site usability issues. Especially good reading. Author of Designing Easy-to-use Websites, A Hands-on Approach to Structuring Successful Websites (book published December 2000).
- Let the User Skip the Splash Page
- Measuring User Experience
By Pamela and Steve Ellis, WebTechniques. Discusses veracious approaches to testing Web site usability. Article includes the following topics: Setting Goals and Making It Pay, Usability Testing, Focus Groups, Contextual Research, Site Evaluations, Online Evaluations, Measurement Tools, Rapid Prototyping, When to Address the User Experience, Maintaining Good User Experiences. Informative article. [Article dated 02/2001 by Pamela and Steve Ellis for WebTechniques, now New Architect.]
- More Than Legible: On Links That Readers Don't Want To Follow
Presentation by Mark Bernstein. Interesting presentation about hyperlinks and what's needed for visitors to be engaged to click on the links, and the reasons for adding hyperlinks to text. [Article dated 2000 by Mark Bernstein.]
- The Myth of the Genius Designer
Nielsen found that a big mistake in assumptions and cutting corners is to think you can hire a great designer and avoid the need for user testing. Get a good designer, ensure that your designer works from usability data, rather than guesses, and use iterative design and polish each round through usability evaluation. Important points to keep in mind and to implement in this article. [Article/tutorial dated 05/29/2007, by Jakob Nielsen, Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox.]
- Seduction? in the interface?
by Nathan Shedroff. Fascinating article about human interaction and Web sites, and the importance of enticing people's interests. Great article. Browse through his Web site, too. Lots of valuable info here.
- The Ten Most Violated Homepage Design Guidelines
One of Nielsen's famous top 10 lists, this one includes “ten usability mistakes that about two-thirds of corporate websites make.” Although dated 2003, most still apply today and is still a worthwhile read. [Article/tutorial dated 11/10/2003, by Jakob Nielsen, Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox.]
- Usability Matters
by Claire Rowland, WebReview.com. Four-part article on usability - what to consider, making a good impression, what is good design, why is usability important, what you stand to gain. Informative article. [Article dated 03/10/2000 by Claire Rowland for Web Review (now owned by Dr. Dobbs]
- User-Centered Design and Web Development
By Raïssa Katz-Haas, for STC Usability SIG. Defines and discusses user centered design and key points to designing user-centered Web sites. Concise, very well done. Editor note January 2006: don't let the article date throw you. The ideas in this article are just as true today. [Article dated 07/1998, by Raïssa Katz-Haas, STC Usability SIG.]
- Web Sites That Work
By Christopher T. Heun and Alorie Gilbert, Information Week. Article discusses what the title states, with examples of 10 sites that work and why. [Article dated 08/27/2001 by Christopher T. Heun and Alorie Gilbert for Information Week.]
- Web Sites that Work: Designing with Your Eyes Open
Interview with Steve Krug (author of Don't Make Me Think) discussing navigation, graphic touches, ease of use, fast downloading pages, and more. Includes audio version of the interview, too. Helpful insight here. [By Dana Greenlee, Co-Host WebTalkGuys Radio]
Web Site Navigation and Usability
While many of the articles and tutorials above include navigation usability, these are specifically about usability and navigation.
- Usability and Navigation
by Andrew Sharling, WDVL. Easy to understand tutorial on building navigation that makes sense for your users. [Article dated 10/08/2001 by Andrew Sharling for WDVL]
- Web Page Layout: A Comparison Between Left- and Right-justified Site Navigation Menus
A research study and test results for the usability of site navigation either left- or right-justified. Insightful research and results. [Article/tutorial dated 04/28/2003, by James Kalbach and Tim Bosenick, for Journal of Digital Information, Volume 4 Issue 1, Article No. 153, 2003-04-28.]
- Website Structural Navigation
Scientific study performed by Univ. of Maryland Computer Sciences Dept. for structural navigation (also known as breadcrumb navigation). Abstract, discussion, research, and conclusions available here. Results conclude that they're helpful, and that overall Web site design and navigation must be done well and with care. [Article dated 12/17/1999 by Noah Lazar, Michael Eisenbrey for CMSC434 - Spring 2000, Univ. of Maryland Department of Computer Science.]
Tools to Help Test Usability
See also Web Site Tools, Software for many more tools to help test your Web site, including its usability.
UsableNet has greatly expanded their usability and accessibility tools from their LIFT Online to LIFT Onsite as well, and includes versions for Macromedia Dreamweaver, Microsoft FrontPage, and a Nielsen Norman version based on Macromedia Dreamweaver. All are based on W3C's WAI Guidelines and W3C Recommendations.
- LIFT Online
An online service by UsableNet to help recognize and solve HTML code for usability and accessibility based on W3C's WAI Guidelines and W3C Recommendations, and includes a 508 Accessibility test. Annual fees.
Web Sites, Web Site Sections Devoted to Usability
- The Alertbox: Current Issues in Web Usability
Jakob Nielsen's bi-weekly column. A must read. Controversial opinions at times, and always interesting reading. [Web site section part of: Useit.com.]
- Ease of Use
IBM's area on usability, information architecture, user friendly design. Filled with articles, tips, tutorials, links to more resources. [Web site section part of: IBM.com]
- GVU's WWW User Surveys
Goldmine of usability statistics and articles. Major reference. (GVU=The Graphics, Visualization & Usability Center). Must read for statistical studies and authoritative information.
- STC Usability SIG Site
Site for the special interest group of the Society for Technical Communication (STC). Site includes their quarterly newsletter, information about their annual conference, their discussion list on usability, and resources on usability.
Created by NCI (National Cancer Institute) for "anyone interested in creating Web sites and other user interfaces that are responsive, easy-to-use, and accessible." Site includes articles and information, links to excellent resources, too. Covers government guidelines, W3C, case studies, much more. Great resource.
- Usability First, Website Design
Web site section on usability for Web sites, with an emphasis on designing a site from the user's perspective, including design, information, architecture, and writing. Links to more resources, bibliography. Great site.
- Usability News
A publication of the Software Usability Research Laboratory (SURL). Top-notch twice-a-year newsletter with authoritative information on web design and usability. Excellent.
- Usability Views - The Usability A to Z
Listing of articles, tutorials, opinion pieces on usability, IA, HCI, and web design, all organized by author, category, collection, popular, and more. [usabilityviews.com by Chris McElvoy]
- Usable Web
Resources to over 1,000 articles, tips and resources on website usability — user interface design, site conventions, writing styles, bad design, reviews, and comprehensive guidelines.
Home of the WebWord Usability Newsletter. Archives available, search capability, and annotated links to usability articles.
Weblogs on Usability
See also Brainstorms & Raves' listing of weblogs (also by WebsiteTips.com's editor) that includes many weblogs about information architecture, usability, design, standards, and related.
- Bohmann Usability
Site has a good variety of information: 1) thought-provoking, interesting articles on usability by Kristoffer Bohmann, specialist in user experience and strategy; and, 2) latest news and noteworthy section with links and comments (weblog type of format).
Challis Hodge's weblog about user experience, technology, and business.
Part of xPlane's site, an excellent daily weblog covering annotated links to many terrific resources, tutorials, tips, opinions and commentary and more related to usability, information architecture, design, and related.
Recommended Books on Usability
- Defensive Design for the Web: How to improve error messages, help, forms, and other crisis points
By 37signals, Matthew Linderman, Jason Fried. Published by New Riders Press, March 2, 2004. As the book states, “Defensive design is like defensive driving brought to the Web. The same way drivers must always be on the lookout for slick roads, reckless drivers, and other dangerous scenarios, site builders must constantly search for trouble spots that cause visitors confusion and frustration. Good site defense can make or break the customer experience.”
Defensive Design for the Web is a fantastic book that I consider essential reading for anyone building, designing, owning Web sites. It's written in easy-to-understand language with plenty of real-world, practical examples of what to watch out for with creating Web sites. It can also help you learn how to think of potential problems that could crop up with your next project and how to troubleshoot and look for possible trouble spots.
Perhaps some or much of what you'll read in this book will seem so obvious to do; however, as you'll see in the book, even many of the most popular sites often have some big blunders and problems. Defensive Design for the Web can also help you with explaining to your boss or clients why something won't work and why you need to spend time troubleshooting and with user testing throughout the project development process.
The bottom line: my opinion is that this is another absolute must have book, whether you're new to the Web design business or a seasoned professional. I highly recommend Defensive Design for the Web: How to improve error messages, help, forms, and other crisis points.
- Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity
By Jakob Nielsen. Published by New Riders Press, December 20, 1999. Despite the year this was published, the insight and information in this book are still excellent. Still worth considering this best-selling book on Web site usability for purchase.
See also Nielsen's latest book below, released April 19, 2006. The author's Web sites: Useit.com: Jakob Nielsen's Web Site and this book's information: About the Book: Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity. See also his company's Web site, Nielsen Norman Group.
- The Design of Everyday Things
By Donald Norman. Published by Basic Books; 1st Basic edition, September 1, 2002. A reissue of the popular book originally published in 1990. A classic! Most or all of us have purchased a product at some time in our lives that was difficult to use, tough to figure out, and a huge pain. The Design of Everyday Things gives tremendous insight on how and why some products satisfy customers while others only frustrate them, all in a light-hearted, fun, and fascinating way. It's no wonder the book has been so popular for so long! The author's Web sites: Donald Norman's Web site with information about the book and his other books. See also his company's Web site, Nielsen Norman Group.
- Don't Make Me Think, Second Edition
By Steve Krug. Published by New Riders Press, August 18, 2005. An exceptional book that covers how to create Web sites that are so user-friendly that visitors don't have to think or try to guess about anything. The 1st edition has been a best-selling book, so I expect the 2nd edition to do at least as well. The 2nd edition includes three new chapters plus updating of resources. Don't Make Me Think remains one of my all-time favorite books on creating Web sites. Highly recommended for designers, developers, Web site owners.
- Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed
By Jakob Nielsen and Marie Tahir. Published by New Riders Press, November 5, 2001. Another excellent book by Jakob Nielsen, this time along with Marie Tahir. You'll find incredible detail here as the authors go through 50 Web sites, writing about the good, the bad, and how to improve each one. Full color screenshots, and beautifully put together, too. The author's Web sites: Useit.com: Jakob Nielsen's Web Site and this book's information: About the Book: Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity. See also his company's Web site, Nielsen Norman Group.
- Prioritizing Web Usability
By Jakob Nielsen and Hoa Loranger. Published by New Riders Press; 1st edition, April 19, 2006. Top usability expert Jakob Nielsen joined forces with Web usability expert Hoa Loranger to revisit his best-selling book, Designing Web Usability, creating “an updated companion book that covers the essential changes to the Web and usability today.” Based on the results and insight gained from hundreds of real-world user tests and Web site critiques, Nielsen and Loranger cover Web site design, user experience and usability testing, navigation and search capabilities, old guidelines and prioritizing usability issues, Web page design and layout, content design, and more. This new book is destined to be another highly popular, best-selling, and helpful book on Web usability. The authors' Web sites: Useit.com: Jakob Nielsen's Web Site, About Hoa Loranger (via Nielsen Norman Group), and this book's information: About the Book: Prioritizing Web Usability. See also their company's Web site, Nielsen Norman Group.
The following have at least a chapter on usability or include usability as an integral part of the book:
- Deliver First Class Web Sites: 101 Essential Checklists
By Shirley Kaiser. Published by SitePoint Books, July 2006. In addition, all those who purchase the book have special access to downloadable, printable checklists to use for all your projects. More information: Companion Site for Deliver First Class Web Sites: 101 Essential Checklists, author's Web site: SKDesigns.
- Web Style Guide: Basic Design Principles for Creating Web Sites, Second Edition
By Patrick J. Lynch, Sarah Horton. Published by Yale University Press, March 2002. This best-selling book contains easy-to-understand theory and philosophy on designing, building, and implementing a Web site, along with helpful illustrations and resources. Some of the categories are Interface Design, Site Design, Page Design, Web Graphics, Web Multimedia and Animation, more. Excellent book. Also visit webstyleguide.com for an online version of the book and to learn more about this exceptional publication.