Monday, September 25, 2006

Usability - The Thirty Second Rule

According to Jakob Nielsen, there are three key things that a user must accomplish in the first thirty seconds of viewing your site. 1. Who are you? 2. What do you do? 3. What should I (the user) do next. If you aren't able to answer these three questions in thirty seconds or less, it's time for a web site redesign.

Let's look at the first question: Who are you? Eyemapping studies show that the first place users look is at the top left area of your site. This is why most well-designed web sites have their company's logo placed there. This is the first step to answering that first question. The placement of the logo at the top left also helps orient the user and helps to bring brand awareness.

Now, the second question: What do you do? This is always difficult for companies, especially when the company itself is not focused on a core product or service, or is having trouble internally defining what it is they really do. When you throw in target audiences who are very different, it becomes even harder. Users don't want to try to glean what you do from a clever tagline, or marketese. The best way to handle this is to come right out and say what you do, simply, and immediately. If you are selling a product, include that right away with an image on the homepage.

Finally, users want to know what to do next. Users want to get off your homepage as soon as they can, and get to the good stuff-- the information, the products, the entertainment, or the service. Again, you may have different target audiences with different needs. Speak to each of them with calls to action such as: Contact Us for a Free Evaluation. Your designer should know how to draw the user's eye to these calls-to-action.

If you currently pass the thirty second rule, congratulations, you are well on your way to having a usable web site. If you don't, it may be a good time to reconsider your web strategy.

-- Ivy Hastings Project Manager Fusionbox

Fusionbox is a Denver web design and development company.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Buyer Beware - Web Design Templates

Web design templates aren't always a good idea for a number of reasons. Most importantly because templates rarely fit your needs exactly, and clients often end up spending more time and money in the long run tweaking the design to fit their content. It’s like trying to stuff a large man into a small suit. Fusionbox always prefers to design around your content rather than trying to fit your content into an already established design. Here are some more reasons not to use a template:

1. Code – Fusionbox uses search-engine friendly code. Many web template designers do not. Be especially aware of templates created entirely in Flash. Search engines cannot spider content in Flash sites so if you go this route, you will inevitably have miserable search engine results.

2. Cross Browser Compatibility – The template you buy may not display the same in different browsers and on different platforms.

3. W3C Compliance – The W3C sets the standards for how web pages are codes, we follow these standards, many designers and developers do not. This also means that your site will be accessible to more users and international users.

4. Look and Feel – It’s important to really understand your goals and objectives, target audience, and how you want your target audience to act on your site. We build toward all of these concepts so that if your goal is to sell more ad space, the user is presented with a call-to-action to buy ad space front and center on your site. We also look at eye-mapping data that shows where people typically look first on the web in order to place important information.

5. Usability – It is important to follow web best practices on where certain items should be placed. (Your logo should always be presented at the top left hand side.) Many web templates do not follow these important conventions.

6. Navigation - The Navigation of templates rarely fit your actual needs so again, you need to redesign that portion of the template. (This is also not to mention the usability issues that many of these templated designs use.)

You'll want to be very careful when considering a web template. Make sure that the template you choose meets all of the above criteria. You just may end up saving quite a bit of time and money.