Sunday, 27 June 2010

McGovern on customer feedback

How reliable is your customer feedback? How do you know you're listening to the right ones? Could your attempts to address the comments you get about your website be doing more harm than good?

Opening links in new windows - a usability no-no

You want your visitors to stay on your site. You 'help' them do this by opening links to other sites in new windows. Everyone's a winner, right? Wrong.

Eyetracking - real world examples

Three unrelated eyetracking articles, all with different focuses and interesting for different reasons. The key thing to learn here (if you didn't know it already) is never assume people take in information in a linear fashion - their attention is fleeting and moves in sometimes unexpected directions.

Design by committee

We all know that design by committee leads to horrendous design and yet committees happen anyway. Paul Boag writes a great piece that looks at the graphic design process chiefly, but I think the principles apply equally to website structure and to content strategy (or at least, deciding what to cut and what to keep).

Friday, 18 June 2010

Web forms - usability & accessibility

I've been doing some reading up on web forms lately as we're working on introducing a new feature to the University's content management system. The forms that will be generated obviously need to be accessible, but we're keen to help publishers ensure they're as usable as possible too.

It goes without saying that my number one point of reference has been Caroline Jarrett and Gerry Gaffney's book - Forms that Work. The accompanying website has tons of useful advice and links to further information too.
Forms that Work - free online resources and book promotion

Caroline Jarrett recently gave a presentation at the Usability Professionals Association conference.
Design tips for complex forms - presentation slides from Caroline Jarrett

A great introduction to making web forms accessible is provided by Webcredible.
Making accessible forms - article by Trenton Moss for

Jakob Nielsen looks at the things you should consider when using checkboxes and radio buttons.
Checkboxes vs. Radio Buttons - article by Jakob Nielsen

A more techie article, but interesting and useful nonetheless. I like the breakdown of the guidance here into what's accessibility, what's usability and what's law.
Accessible forms: Guidelines, examples and accessible JavaScript tricks - article by Mike Foskett for

Finally, a great article from Web AIM (Accessibility In Mind):
Creating Accessible Forms -

Information seeking behaviour

A collection of theories and opinions on how people look for information online, and what we should be doing to cater for these behaviours.

Donna Spencer highlights four modes of information seeking behaviour. This is a great article and has informed my approach to structuring websites and organising content.

The 4 modes of information seeking behaviour:
  • Known-item information seeking
  • Exploratory seeking
  • Don’t know what you need to know
  • Re-finding information
Donna outlines each and goes on to discuss the implications for web design.

Four Modes of Seeking Information and How to Design for Them - article by Donna Spencer for Boxes and Arrows

Jakob Nielsen's article is pretty old now (2003), but he references some interesting earlier academic research and his observations on the rise of Google and the expansion of broadband access certainly ring true for me.

Information Foraging: Why Google Makes People Leave Your Site Faster - article by Jakob Nielsen

Jared Spool talks about the value of getting the right words on the page to help the user on his way. I've previously blogged this one...

The right trigger words - Jared Spool on labelling and links

Print vs web publishing - Nielsen

Jakob Nielsen outlines his views on the difference between writing for the web and writing for print, based on the way users consume content.

His example of an article in the New York Times illustrates his point beautifully.

Writing Style for Print vs. Web - article by Jakob Nielsen

Monday, 14 June 2010

Psychologist’s view of usable design

Fascinating article in which a psychologist applies research in the field on human behaviour to website design principles.

The usability principles Susan Weinschenk runs through weren't new to me, but the reasoning behind them was. A slightly different angle providing fresh insight and links to much more reading.

The psychologist’s view of UX design - article by Susan Weinschenk for

Jared Spool on Amazon

Slides and audio from Jared Spool as he appraises just what it is he feels Amazon do better than everyone else.

Revealing Design Treasures From The Amazon - slides and audio by Jared Spool

An attendee at Jared's presentation has kindly gone to the trouble of summarising the session.

Overview of Jared Spool's Amazon presentation - blog post by Karen Fojas Lee

Jared's a big fan of Amazon. He recently wrote a great piece in praise of their customer review ratings feature.

Amazon's 2.7 billion dollar question - article by Jared Spool

First impressions of your website matter

A relatively old, but interesting piece of research about how long it takes for a website visitor to form an opinion on your website - about a 20th of a second.

Why does this matter? The researchers believe that these quickly formed first impressions last because of what is known to psychologists as the "halo effect".

So with a positive impression, your visitor should cut you a bit more slack when they encounter problems.

This research was first reported in 2006. It was one of the reasons we went to such great lengths to check out the University's new design with end users. I organised emotional response tests, focus groups and surveys around this time to help us get to the current look and feel.

Steve Krug talks about something similar - the reservior of goodwill - in his book "Don't make me think". Visitors perservere with your website until their reservoir of goodwill is used up. So it seems one factor dictating the size of the reservoir will be the visitor's first impression.

First impressions count for web - BBC News article

Web users judge sites in the blink of an eye - article in

Friday, 11 June 2010

Social media marketing tips

A useful introduction to supplementing your web presence with social media tools like Facebook and Twitter by Webcredible. Unsurprisingly, the bottom line is content.

Everywhere we turn, we see the constant reference to social media. So it's little surprise that an understanding to social media is a must for every type of organisation and the key element to success is content - targeted and constant.

Top 5 tips for maximising social media presence - article by Claire Savage for

The big website redesign problem

An interesting piece by Paul Boag on the whole flawed website design cycle in higher education, and probably the public sector as a whole.

Paul pretty much hits the nail on the head with how things usually go.

Normally things work something like this…
  1. The website owner becomes unhappy with his site and decides things need to change.
  2. He concludes the site needs redesigning and so writes a brief before asks web agencies to pitch for the work.
  3. The agencies respond and one is selected for a expensive redesign of the site.
  4. The agency throws out the old site and builds a new one.
  5. The website owner pays the web agency and they go their separate ways.
  6. Slowly the site decays as the business changes and new features/content is added.
  7. Sometime later the website owner becomes dissatisfied again and the process repeats.

He then goes on to discuss alternatives to this incredibly costly and wasteful approach.

If you manage a website, or are working for someone who is insisting it's time to rip it all up and start again, this article is worth a read.

No plans to redesign your site? Now is the time to hire a web design agency - article by Paul Boag

Friday, 4 June 2010

When website budgets get cut

Paul Boag recently wrote an excellent article covering his 5 recommendations to help you cope with a reduced website budget.

Paul's consultancy company spends a lot of time working in the public sector, so he knows his stuff and the tips are well worth a read. The things he talks about certainly ring true for my experience of university and local government web publishing.

It's reassuring to see that all the tips correspond to the advice we've been giving units as they move over to begin using the University's content management system.

Paul's top tips:

  • Realign rather than redesign
  • Simplify
  • Prioritise and phase development
  • Reuse and recycle
  • Move beyond the website

5 options when website budgets get slashed - article by Paul Boag

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Amazon's 2.7 billion dollar question

Jared Spool looks at a really simple, yet incredibly powerful innovation by Amazon which he argues has given them the competitive edge over other retailers.

The user-generated content behind the seemingly innocuous question "Was this review helpful to you?" is what it's all about.

I found this piece really inspiring. Getting the little things right and focusing on the user sometimes pay off in a really big way.

The magic behind Amazon's 2.7 billion dollar question - article by Jared Spool

Public sector website problems

Birmingham City Council seems to have had a complete nightmare developing their new website.

How hard can it be to deliver a decent corporate website using a content management system? Well, very hard actually.

How wrong can a big web content management system project go? Well, very wrong it seems.

I'd read about the problems with Birmingham City Council's website project a while ago, but only just got to see the independent review report.

It's not very often you get to see just how lucky you are. But today was one of those days for me.

UPDATE: At this point I had a link to the report, but for reasons beyond me, the link keeps breaking a day or two after I post it. It's fine at first and then it's not. See the link for instructions on how to access the report. 

The summary makes for interesting reading, and put me in mind of Paul Boag's 10 harsh truths articles.

10 harsh truths about corporate websites

Independent commentaries on the report
Nick Booth's blog entry on (This includes a (kind of) funny set of instructions for how you can find the report for yourself on the Birmingham website)
Martin Belam's blog entry on
News item from the Birmingham Post