((((((((((((((((( WEBREFERENCE UPDATE NEWSLETTER ))))))))))))))))) January 16, 2001
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Jakob Nielsen has one. Jeffrey Veen has one. Steve Krug has one. Even Andy King has one. What the heck am I talking about? A usability checklist of course. These usability heuristics are guidelines for more usable sites and the big names in usability these days all seem to allude to lists they use (Jakob's is reportedly over 220 items long). The newest entry into the usability derby is IBM's Vanessa Donnelly. We review her new book "Designing Easy-to-use Websites."
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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 1. 3D ANIMATION WORKSHOP: Rendering 3D Scenes
We shed some light on the process of rendering 3D scenes. By Robert Polevoi.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 2. DHTML LAB: DHTML Hierarchical Menus: Version 4.0.2
After more of your valuable feedback, more tweaks for HM 4. Version 4.0.2 fixes some more bugs, and now works with non-Netscape Gecko browsers. By Peter Belesis.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 3. TWO NEW CONTESTS: Submit & Win NetObjects Fusion 5, Signup & Win Photoimpact 6 and COOL 3D
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"Designing Easy-to-use Websites" is much more than a conventional usability book, it's an attempt to make us rethink the entire Web design process. Instead of directly jumping into the fun stuff of design and layout, as most designers tend to do, Vanessa Donnelly advocates a much more structured approach to Web site development that includes analysis and design techniques that enable a Web development team to design usable websites.
The process she lays out is not unlike a well-run software development project (only with continuous updates). Based on her own extensive usability research, and experience as IBM's chief usability guru, Vanessa has compiled a comprehensive, high-level, uber-guide to creating high quality, scaleable, and maintainable Web sites.
Donnelly's thesis? Usability is much more than layout and link colors, it bubbles up naturally from a well-planned database- driven site using a content management system that scales well, raises productivity, and dramatically reduces operating budgets.
The idea is to plan for expansion early, and separate the different components of content into manageable, discrete chunks (content, layout, style, navigation, and classification) that all exist independently, and can be assembled using a database. The days of lone webmasters coding entire Web sites by hand are over. In order to succeed, today's e-business sites need a content management system, extensive up-front planning and usability testing throughout the entire development process.
The author first shows how the current ad-hoc one-HTML-page-at-a- time methods are not working, and can cause problems as sites scale. Maintenance, version control, access, archiving, deletion, and classification are all made more difficult and ad-hoc by using a manual process. By separating out the various components of Web sites into discrete orthogonal chunks, and using a structured approach to planning and deployment, you can avoid many of the problems static hand-coded Web sites are experiencing today. As these "first-generation" sites grow larger, the maintenance problems multiply and productivity suffers, and they become an unwieldly mess of broken links and outdated information.
The solution? A database flowing into templates of course.
Unlike Veen and Rosenfeld and any other authors I've seen, Donnelly shows the entire Web site development process, and puts each task into words and UML diagrams, making the entire process clear. Business, user, and content analysis examples are shown, plus requirements for content providers, UI engineers, info architects, and content managers, along with checklists of best practices along the way. Finally, the site requirements and a "clear understanding of the user tasks that must be supported" are transformed into information models using standard UML diagrams so popular in the software development industry.
The net result? Think of this book as a success engine, with handy success templates and best practices. While the entire process is more than most webmasters would undertake, the book gives you marvelous goals to shoot for, and provides inspiration for improvement. The size and scope of this book are so large that a full review is outside the bounds of this newsletter (you'll just have to buy the book :), but this is an impressive effort to encapsulate the entire Web development and usability process in a logical way.
To give you an idea of the quality of work involved, here's a sample usability list from Chapter 7: Critical design features for common Web tasks. This chapter summarizes current usability research and recommendations into suggested Web page features, all footnoted (my comments in [brackets]):
* Increase user satisfaction of site performance by providing:
- visual response to user-initiated action * Increase the speed of on-screen reading by using:
- black characters on a white background (or strong negative contrast) - mixed vs. single case and left aligned - type size (10-12pt with a well-designed screen font) [use relative font-sizes instead: em or percentage for easy resizing] - line length 40-60 characters or 10-12 words per line - white spaced with margins - a sans serif typeface - non-justified text - short to medium-length paragraphs with first sentence indented
* Increase browsability by using:
- eye-catching conclusion within the first 30-40 words, followed by the detail [i.e., newspaper inverted pyramid style] - highlighted keywords - meaning subheadings and bulleted lists - one idea per paragraph;
* Increase readability by making the writing style:
- short, to the point, and half the word count of conventional writing - factual, correct and objective, rather than using hype and promotional spin - professional, credible, using high-quality graphics, good writing backed up by outbound hypertext links; * Increase the usability of navigating and linking by:
- designing the site structure to map to the user's core tasks - regularly running a dead-link checker to reduce the risk of broken links - using default link properties as defined by the browser/user - providing information about a link, what it is, where it goes, will there be a performance hit? - avoiding deep hierarchies and dead-end streets - using cross-referencing for related information internally and externally - keeping pages short and not relying on the use of the scroll bar for any important information;
* Increase the user's ability to find and return to your site by:
- registering the site with all the major search engines - defining the keywords that will return the page from within a search engine - marketing the URL, online and through traditional channels - actively seeking opportunities for other companies to include a link to your site - supporting bookmarking [no frames, can make bookmarking automatic in IE] - having a page title (and window title) that is meaningful when placed in a bookmark file [think out of context] - having a URL that can be easily remembered, typed and guessed by a user.
Designing Easy-to-use Websites By Vanessa Donnelly Addison-Wesley, $39.95 ISBN: 0-201-67468-8
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 6. OTHER VOICES: Web Development With JSP, Building Web Sites With Depth, XML, Web Services, and the .NET Framework
>Web Development With JSP
Learn about JSP, JavaBeans, JSP Performance/Scalability and Multithreading. http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=01/01/07/0423217 Slashdot, 010116
>Building Web Sites With Depth
Jakob Nielson and Marie Tahir tells us to how empower the user to navigate your site and close the sale. Or, at the very least, leave your Web site feeling good. http://www.webtechniques.com/archives/2001/02/nielsen/ webtechniques.com
>XML, Web Services, and the .NET Framework
Learn about the new .NET Framework and how it can work for you. http://www.vbxml.com/xml/articles/dotnetintro/ VBXMl.com
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 7. NET NEWS: What You Can Charge for on the Internet, Talking to the Web, Web Developers: No One's Safe, Fear of a Web Planet
>What You Can Charge for on the Internet
Everyone know companies are paying less and less for online advertisements. Here are some tips on how to generate other types of cash flow and help your bottom line. http://www.mediainfo.com/ephome/news/newshtm/stop/st011001.htm E&P Online, 010110
>Talking to the Web
We all dream of the day when keyboards are no more; we can just talk to the computer and it will understand us. How far is this dream from becoming reality? Find out! http://www.internetworld.com/011501/01.15.01feature1.jsp INTERNETWORLD.COM, 010115
>Web Developers: No One's Safe
Dot-coms are dying; so where are all Web Developers going to go? Are you in danger? http://australia.internet.com/r/article/jsp/sid/687453 australia.internet.com, 010115
>Fear of a Web Planet
Do you think the Internet content should be regulated? Are you scared the Web is poisoning our planet? Read on. http://www.salon.com/tech/col/rose/2001/01/11/net_control/ salon.com, 010111
That's it for this week, see you next time.
Andrew King Managing Editor, WebReference.com email@example.com
Alexander Rylance Assistant Editor, WebReference.com firstname.lastname@example.org
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