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Tag Archives: usability

Web is constantly changing and so is the way we access it.  Not only is there a variety of browsers that people like to use, there are also mobile applications and various accessibility issues to consider. This is something designers need to stay aware of when building any websites.

Mobile web use is popular, as many people have cell phones with built-in simple browsers to allow surfing the internet. There are also, of course, smartphones – fun and useful – which are becoming more available and less costly. Mobile web is dominated by Apple’s iPhone (and iPod touch) with Google’s mobile OS Android being a close second. This article reports Apple having a 60% market share of smartphone traffic in the US as of July 2009 and 45% worldwide. Android has a nowhere near as big of an influence – 12% US, 7% worldwide. Big companies continue to push their mobile web versions while new clever startups try to break through with innovative mobile applications. Mobile web is new exciting land that many people want to claim their stake in. Augmented reality is something new that is predicted to change the way people talk about social media, and that is thanks to mobile web devices.

Another thing for designers and developers to be aware of is the importance of accessibility on the web. Not everyone is able to view our sites exactly as intended – with beautiful graphics, videos, text just at the right size to make it prettiest, etc. Users have various needs. They can simply not have or desire to use certain technologies or plugins needed to view a site in all its glory – like a Flash viewer or Javascript. They might be visually impaired and need to set text much bigger than it was intended by the designer. A screen reader might be used. A site needs to make sense and be usable, no matter how it is viewed. There are several easy things to do to make web pages easily accessible. EMMA – Extensible MultiModal Annotation project from W3C and government’s Section 508 provide guidelines to help. There are also lots of tools online that can check sites, much like CSS or HTML validators, to see if accessibility standards are met (www.cynthiasays.com is one).

Making sites with good accessibility involves logic and common sense. When providing a video, for example, one should also link to a place where a plugin or player for viewing that video can be downloaded from. A user shouldn’t have to hunt for it on the internet. Images on a site should have proper descriptive alt tags (which is also a valid HTML practice). Main content should be placed high in the HTML code, so that it can be seen (if a site is viewed plainly, without CSS) or read (by a screen reader) first.

There are plenty of helpful development tools available, which makes coding beautiful and clear websites easier. When they are integrated into a browser, they make it easy to spot and and fix errors. Here’s a useful list of handy Firefox extensions, including Web Developer and FireBug, which are universally liked by many.

There is a lot to keep in mind when designing for the web. Not everybody views it the same way and many people will view it much differently than the designer did when creating it. In the end, it still has to look good, no matter how it is looked at.

More links:

Firefox extensions I couldn’t live without

Firebug – web development extension for Firefox

Every successful designer realizes the importance of a well-crafted, professional, off- and online persona. That involves having a polished resume and c.v., business cards, and a portfolio of creative work.

Research and planning are the first steps to take before designing anything. Not only is it inspirational but it also provides insight into how other people approach the task. Inspiration can come directly from seeing the kind of work you are doing: looking at resumes when writing a resume, portfolios when creating a portfolio, and so on. The advantage is that it lets you identify trends, common elements, how people structure their work. Seeing what the competition is doing is great. Let’s take online portfolios, for example. The fun and creative sites as well as the unexciting ones are fairly consistent in their sections, with an about section, project list, a contact form, client list. There navigation is usually at the top or left. Knowing what’s been done gives you an opportunity to find a fresh approach and be a little unique. However, it wouldn’t be wise to try to be very different from the established norm. Conventions are popular for a reason.

This article explores the idea of consistency and understanding user expectations. People already have an idea of what should be in a site and when it is not there, they get frustrated. That applies to content, language and layout. A personal portfolio site is expected to have online, clickable samples of work. If its owner simply compiled all of the work into a huge multi-paged pdf to download instead, it would be seen as rather inconvenient. If a contact page didn’t have a form or a contact email available but just a phone number or mailing address – that would turn people off. It’s basic content that is so convenient that people expect to be available. If it’s not there, it’s an annoyance. Adhering to basic usability standards in design is helpful as well. When visiting a website, you look for certain key elements in certain places. Privacy policy and Terms of Service are usually at the very bottom. Breadcrumbs navigation is at the top, below the main and secondary navigation. If you want to break away from established conventions in your design, make sure that there is a good reason for it. There’s a small showcase of creative portfolio designs here to see.

Aside from using amazing competitors’ work as inspiration, there are also other ways to spark the imagination. Magazine spreads can be great to look at, as are lists of great typography and calligraphy. Flipping through an art history book or seeing some museum exhibits can be a good experience. There are so many sources of great art and design work from many different fields.
The other thing to keep in mind while designing things for yourself is to keep different pieces related to each other. Business cards, portfolio, resume and c.v. – and any other things designed for oneself – should all look good together. They are all part of one package and therefore have to be consistent.

More reading:

Don’t Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability – Steve Krug (book) a bit more information on usability, conventions and how people use the web.