IL2007: New Rules of Web Design
Presenter: Jeff Wisniewski
Wisniewski began by discussing how using research and evidence-based best practices can help to guide web design committees that may all feel that they want different things. He talked about the mainstay of design principles: that "simplicity rules" (the Google philosophy). Our users, however, are encountering rich wesites that are personalizable, expansive in features, and those sites don’t fit the simplicity principle. He spoke about how content is most important, but the design aspect affects user experiences a lot. Research shows that users will forgive problems with navigability or usability if the design is pleasing. As such, more attention needs to be paid to the design of library websites.
Wisniewski acknowledged that libraries try to be "content agnostic," but we need to emphasize the highest priority tasks for our users – and not give equal weight to everything. Look at the data of what your users are doing on your website and look at your mission (the purpose of your site). Then decide what to emphasize. "Design for what your users are doing."
He talked about "The Rule of Seven." The number of options that people can wrap their heads around is 7 +/- 2. There is evidence that shows that this rule holds up, but also evidence that shows that the number of categories doesn’t matter as long as you have quality information architecture.
The three click rule: From your homepage, users should be able to access any content within three clicks? Or should they? Wisniewski says that this rule is dead. Design for "scent" – as long as users feel that they’re getting close to their target, they will click through numerous layers.
Another rule that designers have held on to for some time is to design for 800×600 resolution. However, this has changed to 1024×768. It’s important to also think about people accessing our content on other types of platforms, including mobile media. Use CSS. Use percentage-based design. There is a CSS Media type for handhelds, which libraries should use.
Most users are using devices with 24-bit color rendering. Past logic upheld that one should choose from a web-safe pallete to make sure that colors will render accurately on user devices. The more color information in an image, the larger the file size. Again, be aware that users will access our information via different platforms–like blackberries, less than 24-bit.
He recommends looking at what our users are experiencing on websites beyond the library website. You can check other library websites for ideas, but for redesign inspiration, checking non-library sites will prove more fruitful.
How often to redesign? Wisniewski recommends: constantly. The site should be experiencing an interactive, evolutionary rate of change. Huge, "revolutionary change is disruptive." Sometimes complete redesigns are needed, but getting into a continuous change cycle will be better for your users. He recommends testing the efficacy of the placement of a particular feature by putting one version up and looking at the numbers, and comparing it to the numbers for the second version. This provides evidentiary reasoning for a particular choice.
Wisniewski talked about the movement in libraries away from librarian-speak to plain English (e.g. Reference –> Ask a Librarian). These style and naming guidelines should be carried through in print media, physical and virtual text and marketing. Consistency is key!
Web Standards and conventions should be followed: provide a link to home in the upper left, banners should be clickable, have a contact us link, primary navigation should be on the left or the top. "You’re not doing your users a favor if you’re trying to innovate in one of these areas."
Does the availability of greater bandwidth mean that we can pay less attention to the optimization of images, etc.? No! Mobile devices are connected via slower connections and all users are impatient anyway–as fast as you can make it, do it.
In terms of browser support, Wisniewski says that accessibility is critical and legally required for some libraries. Using things like AJAX and FLEX, video content, and audio content may not work on all browsers and browser versions. Does this mean you should not use these technologies? Yahoo! offers "graded browser support" – "A" grade browsers get the full content of the site, including added features. Lower grade browsers have less stated support but can still access the core content of the site.
Wisniewski says that you should not provide a text-only version of the homepage. If you have separated the presentation from the content appropriately, there is no reason to provide a text-only version of the homepage. CSS support is good enough in modern browsers that CSS should be used for all layout, and that the table tag should be abandoned.
Common wisdom used to be that the very top of the page was valuable real estate. On most commercial webpages now, though, that space is taken up by ads. Users suffer from "banner blindness" and don’t see what is there. Don’t put anything mission critical or unique in that space, or many users will miss it.
Placing information in pop-up windows is not a good idea. They will be blocked by many users set-ups.
Flash should not be dismissed outright. It can be used for animation and interactivity well–creating tutorials, etc. Mouseover menus raise usability considerations, are slower, and aren’t scanable–they require user activity to click or mouse over items to see the full picture of the website.
Opening links in a new browser window. For content that is not web-native (PPTs, PDFs, DOCs), open them in a new window. Always notify users, though, if something is going to open in a new window.
Auto Forward (e.g. breaking the back button) is not a good idea. Set the auto forward time high enough to allow users time to use the back button if they need to (e.g. 10 seconds).
Scrolling – important items should be kept above the fold. But studies show that users are willing to scroll if there is important content to be had. Using the "cut off look" (staggering content, giving people a visual indication that there is more content below the fold) is a good idea.
Images of people on a website have been found to increase trust (include children’s librarian photo on the kids site, subject guide creator on the s.g. page). But if people are really good looking, people interpret the images to be advertisements and not real. If you can label people – who they are and why they’re there – that will increase trust.