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section heading icon     overview

This guide deals with site design: empirical studies, standards and debate about what works online, what doesn't.

subsection heading icon     contents of this guide

The following pages cover -

  • key texts - major writings about the design of sites and the design process
  • word & image - the use of text & graphics (including charts and diagrams) to convey information online. The page highlights studies about optimal fonts. It also looks at offline document design, important since many people skim sites then rely on a printout, rather than reading online
  • interaction studies - major studies, bibliographies, professional associations and other sources of information about the interaction between computers and people. It points to empirical studies about menu design and the placement of associative links
  • standards and testing - comments about online design standards (still contentious) and terminology, along with an introduction to the web site testing sector: focus groups, gurus, eyeball tracking ...
  • industry - the web design industry
  • cross-cultural - work on site architecture and design elements that transcend borders, of importance since not everyone shares the same symbolic language or perceptions about colour.
  • creatives - the "new cybertariat" or just business as usual
  • selection - questions about choosing your web designer

There is a complementary guide on accessibility legislation and standards.

A separate note considers Designs Act (intellectual property) protection for the appearance of manufactured products.

subsection heading icon     aesthetics, usability and utility

Sadly, many websites are driven by 'gee whiz' technology or by the designer's ego, rather than an appreciation of what works. Few have a strategic dimension: attention to issues such as branding, updating of content, privacy, liability and offline service. This guide points to information about site design. 

Usability guru Jakob Nielsen, arguing that good design is a precondition for success online, suggests that it embraces usability and utility.

Utility relates to the design's functionality (does it do what users need?).

Usability includes factors such as -

  • Learnability - How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
  • Efficiency - Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
  • Memorability - When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they reestablish proficiency?
  • Errors - How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?
  • Satisfaction - How pleasant is it to use the design?

The 2006 Attention web designers: You have 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression! paper by Gitte Lindgaard, Fernandes, Dudek & Brown argues that users form an impression in 50 milliseconds, substantially determining how they evaluate a site, even after prolonged interaction

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version of August 2005
© Bruce Arnold | caslon analytics