Nik's Technology Blog

Travels through programming, networks, and computers

Book Review: Prioritising Web Usability

I can't recommend this book enough. A lot of the topics covered in this book are common sense. As a Web developer or designer you may think you create very usable sites already, but even if this is true, and you are a true usability guru, a lot of the facts and statistics in this book are useful for backing up your views, and getting your point across to clients who insist on functionality that you know full well will break usability conventions, and potentially harm their finished Web site.

The book is for people who have business goals for their Web sites or the Web sites they work on. This includes sites that match the following criteria:

  • E-commerce sites
  • Corporate sites
  • News sites
  • Non-profit organisations
  • Government agencies

If you are trying to get users' to accomplish something when they visit your site then you should be concerned about usability.

This book contains the results of many studies into how people behave on the Internet and consequently what makes Web sites succeed or fail.

This book alone is not enough to ensure your site will be the most usable it can be, but it is crammed full of tips and real world examples of what to do, and what not to do when it comes to designing Web user interfaces, writing Web copy and planning your Information Architecture. Ideally you will need to perform usability testing as well, but the information in this book will significantly help in improving your Web site.

The book begins by explaining how people use the Web and how to optimise your site accordingly. It explains how users' use search engines to find answers to problems, and how to improve your site to cash-in on these users.

Nielsen and Loranger then go back to the usability problems they found back in 1994 and discover what significant usability issues are still relevant today, including bugbears such as:

  • Breaking the back button
  • Pop-ups
  • Flash
  • Uncertain clickability
  • Plug-ins
  • Splash pages

The forth chapter helps you prioritise your Web site usability issues and decide what to tackle first. They do this by categorising usability problems by severity, frequency, impact and persistence.

Site search engines and their user interfaces and results pages (SERPS) are covered next, including a brief introduction to Search Engine Optimisation.

Chapters 6 and 7 concern navigation, information architecture, readability and legibility. This is followed by a chapter on how important it is to specifically write for the Web, using summaries for key points, and by using simple language. The importance of knowing your audience and how people skim read articles on the Web is talked about, as is the use of marketing slogans and hype.

The following chapter is geared towards your e-commerce goals. How to provide good product information and win consumer confidence in your site and product to increase and promote sales.

The penultimate chapter looks at presentation and users' expectations, while the final chapter in the book is all about balancing technology with people's needs. This covers the use of multimedia content such as videos and the use of familiar interface conventions in Web design.

Prioritizing Web Usability
By Jakob Nielsen and Hoa Loranger
Published by New Riders
ISBN 0-321-35031-6


Live Earth: How can we help reduce our carbon footprint?

After watching a few acts on Live Earth at the weekend I wondered how I could use this little space on the web to make a difference, and help reduce CO2 emissions. Then I remembered a PC Pro campaign launched in 2005 called "Switch IT off". Since then there have been lots of switch it off days to try and raise awareness.
Essentially these campaigns are set-up to encourage businesses and home users to switch-off their appliances instead of keeping them in standby when not in use.

PC Pro did a lot of research into office and home electronics. One particular phenomenon to which most non-IT people are unaware of is the fact that when you shut your PC down, it still carries on consuming electricity.
The ATX power supplies used in all modern desktop computers continue to supply the motherboard with a small amount of electricity to enable it to wake-on-LAN. Now the energy PCs use in this state is minimal, but it is still wasted energy nevertheless. The only way to completely shut a computer down is to turn it off at the mains, or flick the switch on the ATX power supply located at the back of the PC.

The general message of the Switch IT Off campaign is to get people into the habit of turning appliances off rather than using the standby option. Offices that get their staff to turn their PCs and monitors off every evening could save thousands of pounds a year in electricity bills and help reduce our CO2 emissions.

For more information read the full PC Pro Switch IT Off article...

Implementing UML 2.0 Use-Cases with Visio 2007

I've been busy creating some use-cases in Visio 2007 for an upcoming project and from what I can gather either Microsoft has not implemented the current UML 2.0 standard and stuck with an older version, or it decided what parts of the specification to implement.

Either way it's a little annoying, I'm having to spend extra time working out what was the equivalent diagram or notation in UML 1.2 was in order to draw it in Visio.

An example of this would be where you link two Use-Cases with the «include» relationship. This doesn't seem to exist in Visio, so it looks like you have to make do with the «uses» stereotype instead, which was replaced in the current standard.

A few other Visio bug-bears would be the sparse Use-Case documentation interface. It doesn't allow rich text, so adding more than a few lines of text could become very hard to read. Microsoft also seem to leave it up to the modeller to format their own use-case specification; but with such a poor interface I can't see how you could use table-orientated steps to make a sequence of events more readable.

Surely allowing attachments (in the form of Microsoft Word) to be added would make more sense?