Constructing Usable Web Menus - Book Review - WebReference Update - 020411 | WebReference

Constructing Usable Web Menus - Book Review - WebReference Update - 020411

((((((((((((((((( WEBREFERENCE UPDATE NEWSLETTER ))))))))))))))))) April 11, 2002

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The week we review a new book "Constructing Usable Web Menus" from a new imprint, Glasshaus. Learn how to design usable menus with this code-filled how-to. In other stories Digital Web Magazine talks accessible design, Costello redesigns, and XSLT turns 2. Dave Winer of Userland software has bet the New York Times $2000 that blog stories will dominate by 2007. Stay tuned. *- link to us today *- newsletter home

New this week on and the Web:

1. BOOK REVIEW: Constructing Usable Web Menus 2. OTHER VOICES: * Accessible by Design * Redesign * What's New in XSLT 2.0 3. NET NEWS: * NYTD Blogs Itself with Radio UserLand

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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 1. BOOK REVIEW: Constructing Usable Web Menus

Aimed at intermediate to advanced developers, "Constructing Usable Web Menus" homes in on what works, and what doesn't when designing menus for the Web. Chock full of copious amounts of code and screen shots, the book offer a good, albeit incomplete, overview of available menu options for webmasters and guidelines for effective menu design.

The book is one of the first in a series of how-tos from Glasshaus, a new imprint from Wrox Press. This new series is designed to teach "web professional to web professional" and is slanted towards the more proficient practioners of the craft.

The first two chapters of the 227 page book offer guidelines for good menu design (rules, info architecture) while the final four chapters show how to create various types of menus through JavaScript, DHTML, Flash, and PHP/MySQL to populate client-side menus.

The first part of the book deals primarily with usability and information architecture. Here's a list of the "12 Rules for Web Menu Usability" from the first chapter:

1. Menus must be considerate of the user's main task 2. Menus must be distinct from content 3. Menus must be clearly readable 4. Menus must be easily scanned for information 5. Menus must be easily operated 6. Menus must behave as your target user would expect 7. Menus must load quickly as possible 8. Menus must be consistent across a site 9. Menus must put a higher premium on usability than branding 10. Menus must be localizable 11. Menus must be accessible to the handicapped 12. Menus must work on multiple browsers

All good advice. On the last point the authors do an admirable job, claiming their code works on most modern browsers, including IE4+, Netscape 4+, and Opera 5+ for the PC and IE4+, Netscape 6+, and Opera 5+ for the Mac. They make some good points, especially that menus be clearly readable and fast loading. I've seen many a site with slow loading, tiny text menus that are difficult to use, especially for users with older eyes or motor impairments. Designers would be well-advised to follow their guidelines.

However, the authors' coverage of menu designs is somewhat incomplete, and their research needs a refresh. They don't cover simple CSS menus that don't require JavaScript. Perhaps this was because they decided to include Netscape 4 among their target browsers. They also cite Miller's 1956 7+-2 paper, then say it is out of date, but offer no more recent data on the limits of short term memory and menu design (Microsoft's depth versus breadth research for example).


Expandable menus are covered, but hierarchical menus get just one screen shot, from MSDN. While some may question the use of slow- loading or overly complex menus on Web sites, hierarchical menus are in use on many popular sites. Our payware menus notwithstanding, many sites have their own versions, including one of my favorites,

Overall the book gives developers a good overview of menus on the Web, and how to create them.

Usable Web Menus By Andy Beaumont, et al. Glasshaus, $19.99 ISBN: 1-904151-02-7

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 2. OTHER VOICES: Accessible by Design, Redesign, What's New in XSLT 2.0

* Accessible by Design

Anitra Pavka offers up some guidelines on accessible web design. Digital Web Magazine, April 4, 2002

* Redesign

While others wax poetic about the Wall Street Journal's conventional table-based redesign, innovative designers are quietly reworking their CSS-based layouts. Eric Costello chimes in with a new three-column layout for that reportedly works in Netscape 4.x. Bravo. Eric Costello, April 9, 2002

* What's New in XSLT 2.0

A look at some of the new features in XSLT 2.0 for transforming structured documents. This is one reason to switch to XHTML., April 10, 2002

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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 3. NET NEWS: NYTD Blogs Itself with Radio UserLand

* NYTD Blogs Itself with Radio UserLand

The New York Times is now providing news feeds through Radio Userland. Dave Winer, founder of Userland Software, has also made a $2000 bet with the chief executive of the New York Times Digital, Martin Nisenholtz on the future popularity of weblogs. Here's the bet: "In a Google search of five keywords or phrases representing the top five news stories of 2007, weblogs will rank higher than the New York Times' Web site.",1471,8471_1007201,00.html At New York, April 10, 2002

That's it for this Thursday, see you next time.

Andrew King Newsletter Editor, aking at internet dot com ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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