Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Usability news

[Tags: , ]. This from the latest email newsletter to USABILITY-NEWS@JISCMAIL.AC.UK:
------ LATEST NEWS ------

* Honda Website gets Impromptu Test and comes out Poorly
Source: UN, 24 April 2006
William Hudson of Syntagm asked members of the London Usability mailing list to try the following task, after his own experiences with the Honda website.

* Young British People neglect Health and Lifestyle through Impatience
Source: UN, 21 April 2006
Some colourful, but slightly dubious, statistics from about young people's impatience.

* UK Design Council takes Design to Social Issues
Source: UN, 20 April 2006
A new design discipline is emerging. It builds on traditional design skills to address social and economic issues says the latest report from RED.

* Media: SonicRim on Postdesign, where People do it for Themselves
Source: SonicRim, 20 April 2006
"Beyond User-Centered Design" is about 'Postdesign': 'We are heading into a world where relationships matter more than objects and human experience is what matters most of all.'

* Media: Electronicstalk reports on Philips' Shopping Phones
Source: Electronicstalk, 19 April 2006
Philips and Visa International have released a usability study of contactless payment technology.

------ EVENTS ------

* Web Design for Usability - London
Date: 11 May 2006
Syntagm is running a one-day course on usable web design in Central London on 11 May 2006. BHCIG or UK UPA members will receive a 5%. There is also currently a three for the price of two special offer.

* Card Sorting for Navigation Design - London
Date: 8 June 2006
Attendees will get first-hand experience of analyzing, conducting and participating in card sorts using data from existing, high-profile web sites. This half-day workshop is suitable for usability specialists and information architects.

* Human Computer Interaction Exhibition - Liverpool, UK
Date: 31 March 2006 to 28 May 2006
John Moores University and FACT ( present an unforgettable experience of interactivity and usability.

* UKUPA 'What does PAS 78 mean for accessibility?' - London
Date: 28 April 2006
This is a chance to put questions to some of the people involved in writing and reviewing PAS 78 and debate what the implications are and what will it mean for designers, developers and testers?

* Ethnography and how it can inform Design - Cambridge, UK
Date: 8 May 2006
Louise Ferguson looks at the nature of ethnography and what it can offer the user experience and design community and their clients.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

How to go to university

Andrew Dubber has posted a fantastic post entitled 'How to go to university' on his blog. It may sound obvious, but advice like 'turn up' and 'read books' is really worth listening to...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Principles and Elements of Design

[Tags: , ]. Here's a great article by Joshua David McClurg-Genevese applying design principles to the web. Make sure to check out his last three articles too.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Seven signs of amateur design

[Tags: ]. There are certain techniques that scream 'amateur' and should be avoided at all costs. These are the strange inspirations that take a mysterious hold of people when they first sit in front of Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop to create a poster or a logo.

And so, continuing my theme of sevens, here I present my guide to the seven things that I hope I will never see again, anywhere, but know full well I'll see again, everywhere.

1. Comic Sans

When Microsoft invented the Comic Sans font and put it on every machine, they created a monster. For some reason, people saw this and thought that a font that looked as if it was written by a 10-year-old would really convey the professionalism of their business. Such is the hatred for Comic Sans you will find countless sites and messageboards devoted to just how badly used it is.

2. Gradients

Hey, look! It starts blue, then changes to purple! Wow.
Yes, that's very nice. But why are you using it? Are you designing for a hippy commune? Are you living in the '60s? No. Does it make the design more readable? Does it give it more impact? No. One of the basics of good design is contrast. Gradients have no contrast: they slowly change from one colour to another. So get it out of your system, then get it out of your design. Gradients suck.

3. Putting boxes around everything

This is a particular weakness in amateur publication design: "Here's an article; I'd better put a box around it so that people know it's separate from any other articles. Here's a headline: better put a box around it..." Have you ever looked at a professional newspaper? Do they put big clumsy boxes around everything? Of course not. They rely on more subtle ways to distinguish one article from another, like white space, a grid format, or at the most a hairline, or a faintly coloured background. Look at other publications and learn what works.

4. 12pt Times New Roman

I understand. For years you've been conditioned to submit essays and reports in 12pt Times New Roman. You've not thought about using anything but the default font and size in Word, and frankly, such is the conformism in schools that you'd probably be expelled for differing for the norm. But in the professional world you need to stand out, and 12pt Times New Roman screams "boring", "ordinary", and "lazy". Simply using a different font (not Arial - it's almost as overused) will make your work stand out as having had at least a modicum of thought paid to it.

5. Word templates and other templates

Again, another technique that screams "boring", "ordinary", and "lazy". The problem with templates is: everyone uses them. As a result: no one stands out. If you're applying for a job, or wanting a design that will stand out from the rest, don't use a template. As an employer, I saw CV after CV with that dour grey globe in the top corner and the same text formatting: the applicants had all used the same Word template. It's not the best first impression to make.

6. Underlining as a method of emphasis

Underlining was never intended to be used to emphasise text - it was a printer's mark that said "make this bold". Yes, it does emphasise text - slightly - but there are much, much better ways of doing so. Instead, if you want to emphasise text, make it bold, and if it's a heading, make it bigger. You should also try making it a different font to body text - or even a different colour.

7. Word Art

Good typography apparently isn't enough for some people. Oh no. Let's make that word 3D. And have it shrinking as you get to the end of it. And put a little metallic effect on it too. Yes, that'll make it look better. No. It looks rubbish.

bad word art

Search engine for your site - or sites

[Tags: , ]. If you want to add a search box for your site take a look at Rollyo. The great thing about the site is that, as well as creating your own search box, it's added to a publicly-available list of search boxes, so other people can find your site. You can also set up search boxes that only search a particular range of sites - so if you run more than one (like me), you can have a search box that will search them all - and nothing else. I've copied the code for one below:

Powered by Rollyo

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Disney TV shows go free online

[Tags: , ]. "Disney is to make hit shows such as Lost and Desperate Housewives available for free on the internet as part of an advertiser-funded trial," reports the Guardian. "In another move to expand its appeal on the web, Disney is also launching an online soap channel, Soapnetic, for Verizon internet subscribers"

Meanwhile, the Online Publishers Association newsletter reports:

"Online video explosion takes on TV upfronts

"Watching video online used to be an oddity, with flickering postage-sized images that gurgled and froze. Fast-forward to 2006 with the online video revolution in full swing, and Netizens are making it a regular part of their online life (see research item below). With the growth in viewership has also come a booming demand for ad
inventory on online videos. AdAge has run multiple stories on the push for a
"digital upfront" this spring, as well as a change in mindset by advertisers and
agencies who consider the television just one of many venues for video ads.
American Express calls the category "rolling video stock" while MediaVest
reorganized its buyers as "video investment and activation units," AdAge
reported. "Broadcast is not dying; broadcast still works," MediaVest's Donna
Speciale said. "But we have to follow the consumer to where he or she is getting
content and that means being video-neutral."

One video site is going to approach advertisers for special digital upfront deals for its slate of new online "shows." AdAge notes that the digital upfront idea isn't new, and that AOL, Yahoo, MSN and other video-rich sites have sold out inventory in advance for certain categories. The demand for online video ad inventory has also led to a new in-stream ad network from, which will supply 61 million ad impressions per month. has signed up 30 publishers, compared to rival Instream's 50 publishers, ClickZ reports. Plus, said it would add more original video to its home page and section front pages in order to satisfy the massive demand for video inventory. "Pre-roll inventory is very, very, very much in demand," AccuSteam iMedia Research's Paul Palumbo said.
Marketers, Media Buyers Reorganize for New Video Age (AdAge)
Web Sellers Build Own 'Upfronts' (AdAge)
» Launches Pre-Roll Video Network (ClickZ)
» Builds Original Video Inventory to Satisfy Advertiser Demand (ClickZ)
Cable networks tout new media for content and advertising (Broadcast & Cable)
YouTube's 'Bowiechick' and the spiders from marketing ("

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Headline for Google Web Newspaper Article Journalism

[Tags: , ].

An unexpected effect of web and new media on newspapers: puns have fallen out of favour, and simplicity and clarity of message are now the order of the day where newspaper headlines are concerned.

According to this New York Times article (free registration required), Google is now the intended audience for headlines. Search engines deliver around 30% of a newspaper's online traffic, and therefore readers and so advertisers.

This might also be worth considering when coming up with blog post headings (such as the exaggerated example above) or when titling web pages...

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Seven 'Don'ts' of good web design

[Tags: , ]. Following my seven tips for good web design, here are my seven don'ts of web design.

1. Don't begin designing on-screen

Computers help us do things better - but they also take more time and narrow our options. Designing on-screen takes longer than a quick sketch on paper, and you'll find yourself limited by your technical skills. Speed things up by brainstorming ideas on paper first - this way you can make lots of mistakes and learn from them; you can explore lots of different ways of doing things without getting drawn down one path too soon; and you set yourself a clear objective before you sit down to fiddle with the tools on a web design or graphics package.

2. Don't overload us with fonts, sizes and colours

Consider two the magic number. Stick to two fonts, in two sizes, and two colours. Keep your images to one of two sizes. The consistency will make your page look professional, and make it clear and easy to use; the contrast will allow you to draw the user in - so, for instance, you might have a 'normal' font and a 'headline' font; a 'normal' size and a 'headline' size; a 'normal' colour and a 'highlight' colour. Simple.

3. Don't use fonts that aren't web friendly

When it comes to text, stick to Arial, Times, Helvetica, Verdana, Georgia and Courier - if you're using Dreamweaver the list of fonts should already be there on the Property palette. You might be tempted to use something more unusual, but your typographical skills will be wasted: unless the font is on the user's computer, it won't display at all.

4. Don't change layout between pages

As soon as a user enters your site they are learning how to use it. They'll want to know where the navigation is, and where the content is. If you move things between pages they have to re-learn all over again, and this frustrates them. Chances are, they won't stick around. Make things easy for your user by keeping your layout consistent.

5. Don't leave webpages as 'Untitled Document'

A webpage title serves a number of functions. It's very important in being listed by search engines; it's the title that is used when someone bookmarks your site; and it's the phrase that runs across the top of the screen when they're looking at your page. Having that say 'Untitled Document' makes you look unprofessional. So make sure you title your document: in Dreamweaver you can do this in the 'Title' box near the top of the screen; in HTML look for the title tag.

6. Don't stop at your first attempt

You first page design might look good. It might even look great. But your second attempt will look even better, and your third better still. The secret to great design is re-design: tweak, tweak and tweak again and you'll have something to be proud of.

7. Don't use more than seven main navigation buttons

Too many buttons and you confuse the user - see this website for an extreme example. Our short-term memories will only hold around seven items, so stick to seven or less. Why do you think this list is only seven tips long?

Monday, April 03, 2006

Seven tips for good web design

[Tags: , ]. Thanks to Jill Barrow at Thomas Telford School for prompting me to write this little list of tips. These are more conceptual than technical, but if all you want is technical skill, go and buy a book on Dreamweaver.

Tip 1: Know your objectives

Before you do anything, write down what you want your website to achieve. Do you want to sell products? Communicate information? Do you want to get people talking? Keep it simple and write it at the top of every page of planning. Whenever you're unsure what to do about a problem this will help you decide.

Tip 2: Think like your audience

What other sites do your audience like - and why? Why is your audience going to your site? Make it as easy as possible for them to get to what they want. Talk to them - and listen.

Tip 3: Have a brand idea

Write down five adjectives that describe how you want the site to look and feel. Do you want it to be modern, or traditional? New, or established? Authoritative, or radical? Funky? Friendly? Cutting-edge? This is your brand, and when you produce draft designs ask yourself: does this fit my brand?

Tip 4: Keep colour simple

A base colour and a second for emphasis is enough - if you're not convinced, look at famous logos and designs: Coca Cola (red and white), McDonalds (red and yellow), Orange (white and, er, orange). There are lots of websites that will help you choose colour schemes - explore them. You'll also find more advice on intelligent use of colour at Web Design From Scratch.

Tip 5: Use layout conventions

Most websites stick to a common layout with navigation down the left or, less often, along the top. Like having a contents page near the beginning of a magazine, users are used to this and get frustrated if navigation isn't where they expect it. Unless you've got a very good reason, stick to these conventions.

Tip 6: One point of contrast

Once you've settled on your layout try to keep your elements consistent - images should be the same size, text should be the same size. Then pick one element and make it bigger and bolder. This is your headline story, or your product of the day. By making it bigger you give your user an entry point into your page - but stop there. If you make any other elements big and bold too you'll lose any impact, so only do it once.

Tip 7: Test it.

On yourself and on other people. Set your users tasks and watch what they do - then redesign your site if you think it will make it easier for them to do what they want to do with it.