Information Design Watch
February 9, 2004, 9:38 am
A recent study of 8,000 subjects reveals that usability is the second highest rated factor in determining a Web site’s popularity — after good content. The issue, then, is whether usability is given sufficient priority in Web site development:
“…designing usability into a product involves first doing an analysis of the user’s needs, and then designing around those needs. If you haven’t done the analysis, you have to redo the design later on.”
http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/wo_pemberton121003.asp (free registration required)
The article points out that Web authoring standards themselves are increasingly based on usability concerns, with a specific example being the Xforms module of the XHTML 2 markup language (see http://www.w3c.org/TR/xforms/).
Unfortunately, the major browsers are still playing catch-up with the XHTML 1 standard. In almost all of the pages we code we use the “transitional” version of XHTML 1 and the transitional phase will likely continue for some time to come.
February 9, 2004, 9:36 am
One of the most important benefits of visual explanation is its ability to show patterns, trends, or anomolies in large sets of data.
Martin Wattenberg, creator of SmartMoney’s Map of the Market, is now researching visual methods to help users navigate news forums, track collaborative documents, and manage email.
“‘Everyone has too much to read,’ Wattenberg says. ‘It’s easy to get overwhelmed. Visual representations can show you what’s important and what’s noise.’”
Sample visualizations from Wattenberg’s “History Flow” concept can be found on the IBM Web site:
February 9, 2004, 9:33 am
Dave Cantrell at the 4GuysFromRolla Web site has a program that generates “fake Latin” text:
Why use fake Latin, or “greeking,” as it often called? We occasionally use it in design samples to show how a page looks without distracting reviewers with sample content that is inherently incomplete or out of date.
Usability expert Jakob Nielsen describes a testing methodology that leverages such unreadable copy:
“When they can’t read the text, users have to rely on the inherent communicative aspects of the layout to perform the test task. If a layout performs well when users can’t understand any of the content, then there is hope that the template will survive substantial abuse from authors who fill it with content of varying quality.
February 3, 2004, 9:28 am
Presenting educational content online demands a collaborative, flexible approach. Institutions need standards that allow them to share learning tools. Individual instructors need a means to create customized content. The Open Knowledge Initiative, a proposed solution to this problem, started with a long look at fundamentals:
“For most of the project’s first year, key developers from each of the collaborating schools met at MIT to hammer out a list of the basic functions that an educational management system would need.” [Our emphasis.]
Even when specifications focus on programming, user interaction is explicit in many functions: authentication, file sharing, scheduling, messaging, etc. Software standards imply an information architecture, whether planned or not; a comprehensive information architecture helps ensure that a system is both portable and scalable.
http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/atwood1203.asp?trk=nl (free registration required)