News : October 2004
New Issue of Digital Web Magazine
In this week's issue of Digital Web Magazine we have a fascinating article by Michael I. Almond about how to apply the principles of social change to become a better Web professional. His article is aptly entitled The Web is a Human Creation. He provides some really great insight far beyond what we often see and I encourage you to read it. Extra special thanks to Pabini Gabriel-Petit of Spirit Softworks for some last minute late night copy editing. That's all for this week, see you in seven days with more great articles for web professionals.
Jeffrey and Carrie's new pride and joy
Congratulations to Jeffrey Zeldman and Carrie Bickner on their new baby girl, Ava Marie Zeldman. She came in to this world last night at about 11:30 weighing about seven pounds. Knowing her parents she is going to be very bright and talented. Feel free to email them and congratulate them, but please know that it may be some time before they get back home to their computers and check their email. Thanks to Grandpa Bickner for letting us know. I can't wait to see her.
Yahoo! with Style
It seems that Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle, or better known as Yahoo! is hitting the CSS books hard. Both Yahoo.com and My.Yahoo.com have re-launched with full Layered Semantic Markup support. Nice work! Yahoo.com even has full CSS support. Not bad at all, but they still have quite a bit more ground to cover: there are still several issues with validation on the sites and I hope Yahoo! is working to fix those problems soon. Perhaps we will see some XHTML out of these sites yet. Read more about this in the article Yahoo! Redesigns Home Page, My Yahoo! at ClickZ. [From Nate's Notes and UI Designer]
IA Summit: Call For Papers
The ASIS&T IA Summit has announced a Call For Papers. Session Proposals will be accepted through October 25, 2004 and Poster Proposals will be accepted through December 5, 2004. This year the IA Summit will be on March 4th through 7th, 2005 at the Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth in Montréal, Québec, Canada. I hope to see you there. [from Bloug]
For those in the Bay Area, you may want to take note of this. The co-chairs of BayDUX, Pabini Gabriel-Petit, Fred Sampson, and Mike Van Riper, are pleased to announce the debut of BayDUX. BayDUX is a coalition of San Francisco Bay Area professional organizations that grew out of our joint participation in the DUX2003 conference. UXnet is a new organization whose mission is fostering cooperation and collaboration among the many organizations that serve the international user experience design community. Because UXnet and BayDUX share a common purpose, BayDUX is now the local presence for UXnet in the San Francisco Bay Area. BayDUX co-chairs also serve as UXnet Local Ambassadors. Expect to see simular sites launching soon for UXnet in local areas such as Seattle. If you are interested in helping support the local Seattle and Puget Sound Area initiative, please feel free to contact me.
A Recipe For Web Design
Do you remember that great article by Keith Robinson called "A Recipe for Learning Web Design"? Well, it looks like Keith has gone a bit literal here and actually developed his own Recipe For Web Design... really, a few spoons of this, a dash of that. Go see for yourself. Is someone going to submit this to Epicurious?
CSS Hack Management
Molly Holzschlag authors a great article entitled Strategies for Long-Term CSS Hack Management at informIT. "Using CSS in a contemporary browser? You'll probably need to use a variety of CSS hacks to accomplish the best possible cross-browser compatibility. Molly Holzschlag helps you determine if you need hacks, how to manage them effectively if so, and which hacks you can employ to solve a range of common compatibility problems." [from Digital Media Minute]
What comes after findability?
Donna Maurer writes a great post about Usability testing for findability. She has some really good points here about how we often go about conducting usability tests. She points out that a lot of our testing is based on known items. We know this exists on the site, now let us watch you try to find it. Well, what happens once the person finds it. Often that is the end of the test. Donna wonders about that information... how useful is it once the user has found it? How do they use it in their work? What is the overall usefulness of that material? An excellent piece, and don't forget to check out the comments as well.
Information Architecture Tends
I am sick as a dog today so news will be slow for a little bit, but I thought I would pass along this one link. Lou Rosenfeld is asking for your help to identify Information Architecture Tends over the past several years and predictions into the future. You don't have to have an IA job title to take the survey. I should note that because of the format of the survey please uses the highest average for each year (i.e. some of us had many jobs each year in 2000 to 2003). Please pass the URL around to your colleagues as well. The survey will be open for a week. Once completed the results will be shared via Lou's Bloug. Ok, back to chicken soup and sleeping for me.
New Issue of Digital Web Magazine
In this week's issue of Digital Web Magazine we have a great review of Macromedia's Flex and Flex Builder by Marc A. Garrett. Marc looks at all of the details of Macromedia's surprisingly good new presentation server and puts it to the test to see if it can escape the fate of products such as Generator. That's all for this week, see you again with more great articles next week.
Here is another (or what appears to be) feed of feeds site called UI Designer. Though the site's slogan is a bit of a mouthful, it's actually quite a good resource. Maybe sites like this will help expose some of the other long-time great resources around the web aside from the same old top 10 web designer blogs that everyone already links to. [from GUUUI]
The right size for any resolution
Cameron Adams is a brilliant man. Why do I say this? Because Cameron is working on a concept that will put the ugly liquid vs. fixed debate to death for good. In his post Resolution dependent layout he describes a technique that doesn't stay fixed but also doesn't flex... it adjusts and remaps the layout based on what resolution you are at. Still confused? No worries, check out his example layout. Resizing the browser shows it all in action.
Web Standards Planet
In what seems to be a feed of feeds Roger Johansson points out Web Standards Planet. It is a site designed to connect Web standards related bloggers, and web standards related sites within one website. Simular to how Information Design and Usability Views work. As far as I can tell Web Standards Planet is pulling RSS feeds from all major web standards ezines and blogs and reposting them on their site. Which makes it a good alternative solution to a feedreader or sites like Blo.gs and del.icio.us. [from 456 Berea Street]
User Experience Resources
Here is a huge list of UX resources from articles to discussions, from case studies to research. The User Experience Resource Collection is well worth the bookmark. Though they only graze the surface of the 266 related articles on Digital Web Magazine, but well worth checking out anyway. I wish Dey Alexander the best of luck, we once had resources such as this but removed them due to link rot and maintenance issues. [from Information Design]
Looking for Web Patterns
Feeding off of Monday's post about Design Standards I came across a great resource for UI Patterns and Techniques which sheds some light on how UIs should be architected and designed. It's important to note that be it design standards or UI patterns, these are all just guidelines that one should be encouraged to follow, but they are by no means rules that you must follow. Another great resource along these lines is Patrick Lynch and Sarah Horton's Web Style Guide, now in its 2nd edition and available in print and on the Web. I can't tell you how much the Web Style Guide has helped me architect, design and develop more effective, efficient, and intuitive web sites since I first stumbled across the site in 1997. It's well worth the time investment to read this resource. [from: The Daily Div]
While we are on the topic of User Centered Design there are a few other ways you can get your users involved with helping improve your website and it doesn't even involve user interviews, focus groups or user testing. It's called Web Analytics. Web Analytics is the practice of analyzing aggregated, segmented and individual visitor behaviors on a web site to identify opportunities to improve site performance based on key site metrics. Today ZAAZ has launched WebAnalytics.com to aid in the effort of better understanding web analytics. The material is contributed from web analytics experts such as Jason Burby and Matt Jacobs. The site will be growing over the next few months to become more of a resource center for those interested in web analytics best practices, current happenings and case studies.
User Research Abroad
Another new essay is out from the folks at Adaptive Path. This time around Indi Young writes about User Research Abroad: Handle Logistics in Four Easy Steps. A good read with a lot of good tips for conducting user interviews with those in other parts of the world.
New Issue of Digital Web Magazine
This week's issue of Digital Web Magazine is a special double issue. In this issue we are focusing on CMSs and Blog tools. First up is a great interview by Kristopher Krug in which he interviews Six Apart co-founder Mena Trott. Also in this issue is a great article about Integrating CSS with Content Management Systems by the very bright and talented Victor Lombardi. Both are great pieces and I hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did. That's all for this week, see you again in seven days, same time, same place.
Garrett at YourTotalSite has authored a great article that reminds us not to forget the little things. His article is entitled "Logistics checklist for starting a new web site project" and in it he covers a verity of topics from conversation tracking to defining a baseline browser. It's also important that some of these things (i.e. baseline browser and platform) get defined by the site's users directly (if it's a redesign project). This can be done through quantitative methods such as a baseline analytics study.
Adopting Web Standards at Work
Roger Johansson has authored a great post about Converting your team to follow web standards. Not too much here we don't already know, but it's good to be reminded of these things. Another great source for this type of information is the Web Standards Project's Web Standards FAQ which I and the Web Standards Project Developer Education Committee helped create and later Molly Holzschlag and Shirley Kaiser whipped into perfection.
New Issue of Boxes and Arrows
A new issue of Boxes and Arrows is out. In this issue Mike Kuniavsky writes a great article on Extending a Technique: Group Personas, there is also an article on Making Personas More Powerful: Details to Drive Strategic and Tactical Design by the esteemed George Olsen. Both articles are great reads and very timely for some of the work I am doing.
Call for Articles
Digital Web Magazine is now accepting proposals for articles covering web design, web development, information architecture, usability, information design, web programming, or any web industry related topic. If you have an idea for an article and would like to write for us please contact the Editor. Be sure to include a short summary of your article's topic and direction. Unfortunately we can not accept any articles that have previously been published online. Articles are contributed strictly on a volunteer basis. We do not accept advertorials or articles that exclusively market a specific product or service. See the contributor guidelines for more details.
I am typically not one to reference Jakob Nielsen's AlertBox postings, but this most recent one on The Need for Web Design Standards caught my interest. In this latest edition Jakob identifies standardization, convention and confusion within the location of various web elements. It's interesting that there is no mention of the great studies SURL did on User Expectations for the Location of Common E-Commerce Web Objects which help address some of these issues. For example he cites that 23% of the confusion (or inconsistency) resides in things such as the placement of the search feature. The SURL study suggests that users look to the top center of the page for such a feature (see figure 5). He also mentions that the location of the sign-in process is inconsistent at best. The SURL study suggests users look to the top left corner of the page and slightly below the logo for this feature (see figure 2). Lastly he mentions that the placement of Help is also random. SURL suggest that users expect this functionality to be located in the extreme top right corner of the web page (see figure 3). It's important to note that your mileage with these recommendations may very, so when it doubt, always survey your users.
Use of Faceted Classification
Here is a great article about the Use of Faceted Classification. Faceted classification is something that intrigued me when we were architecting the redesign of Digital Web Magazine. We decided that there would be multiple ways to access the same information. If you look over to the left nav on most any page under the article tab you will find Articles by date (chronological), Articles by author (alphabetized by last name), Articles by title (alphabetized), Articles by type (i.e. interviews, book reviews, etc.), and Articles by topic (i.e. CSS, IA, UX, etc.). I am always open to other facet suggestions you as a reader may have. [from InfoDesign]
Web Analytics Consultant wanted
As some of you know, I work for ZAAZ here in Seattle, Washington. ZAAZ is a pioneer in the use of web analytics to improve site performance. I bring this up because we are currently looking to expand our team with an experienced Web Analytics Consultant to serve as the primary contact for client engagements with client satisfaction being a key performance measure. Consultant is expected to help grow scope and depth of client work over time. Required skills: proactive, detail oriented, individual with strong oral and written communication (including presentation) abilities, excellent time management and analytical/problem solving skills. The ideal candidate has a direct marketing or business background (MBA preferred), experience with web strategy and is proficient with data analysis. Candidate would have experience with WebTrends, Omniture and/or other web analytics tools and statistics. This is a full-time, on-site, permanent position. See the Web Analytics Consultant job posting for more details.
Where does the eye go?
I am often asked about how to resolve design issues with home pages that are too busy. There have been a few articles here that hit on the topic of drawing the eye using desing (see Rule of Three), but it's good to know that someone has done a full study on where the eye goes. [from Nate's Notes]
New Issue of Digital Web Magazine
In this week's issue of Digital Web Magazine Alex Barnett writes a great case study about a Microsoft UK project which used basic user-centered design methodologies to overcome some of the hurdles with developing a site for wide audience. This case study is very timely for some of the projects I am working on and I am sure you will find the learnings to be just as valuable. That's all for this week, we will see you next week with more great articles.
One would generally think that maybe no one ever read Inspiration vs. Theft or that no one ever cared about where the fine line is drawn or if they crossed it... much less understand simple copyright laws or the words "All Rights Reserved" and what they actually entail. And never mind that there is a whole site dedicated to showcasing design theft. Why do I bring this up? Well, because today marks the 148th attempt at design theft of a Digital Web Magazine design. Here are a few rules of thumb:
- Always ask first, never take.
- Don't ever think you will go unnoticed, even on the Web.
- Read the site's copyright statement and/or policy first.
- See rule one above.
- Re-read rule one above.
If you feel none of these rules apply to you and you are going to take someone's web design, hire a good lawyer.
Information Architecture is not a Black Box
It looks like Peter Morville has been doing quite a bit of Information Architecture Research. He provides quite a few good points and several links to good studies. I do think one thing that is not fully explored here is the idea of finding out if what we are architecting is actually working. This can be done on a qualitative level through the practice of usability (focus groups, user surveys, usability testing, etc.) and on a quantitative level through web analytics (baseline studies, path analysis, conversion studies, etc.). In short it is important to know and understand that IA doesn't live in it's own black box, that we must rely on a variety of expertise to support our decisions and direction.
Derek Featherstone has published another great piece of insight entitled Three Things I've Learned About Blogging. I can say for certain most of his assumptions are accurate... there is a sort of pulse to the blogging community and things slow down on the weekend and a heart attack hits on Mondays. For the independent web community (yes, we're talking ezines here, not blogs) it is a bit different. Looking at it on a weekly level reveals that Tuesdays (or early Wednesdays) are the day of choice for publishing new material. This is part of the reason we publish Digital Web Magazine on Wednesday nights... sometimes late at night (midnight or so)... depending on our schedule that day. The nice thing about the independent web community is that we tend to be very aware of our sister publications and their schedules and we try to avoid having two zines publish on the same day out of courtesy and respect. We also show the same respect topic wise. For example I often referrer authors of articles that go into great depth on complicated IA techniques to sites like Boxes and Arrows and articles that go into depth on web development from a hands-on perspective to sites like A List Apart. It's always a good idea to find your niche within the web community. How about you, how do you publish within the community? What is your publishing schedule like?
Less readable to be more accessible?
So I read a post about this new standard being formed for text email newsletters. It is designed to increase usability and accessibility of plain text email newsletters. It's called Text Email Newsletter Standard (or TEN for short). I thought it was a worthy cause (hey, anything for improved usability and accessibility) so I looked into the details. After reading through the summary and specs I decided I'd take the last newsletter emailed to the Digital Web Magazine readership and convert it to what it would look like using TEN. Well, I quickly came to the conclusion that while this standard may make the newsletters more usable and accessible to screen readers, it certainly made it far less usable to standard email readers, much less readable to actual people who are reading the emails. Make no mistake, this is a good effort and a worthy cause, but I think the implementation is too far from practical. What are your thoughts on this? [from 456 Berea Street]
Liquid Design doesn't mean liquid content
So, with all the comments about fixed line-lengths in liquid UIs I have decided to implement a fixed width content area on all article and comment pages on this site. I eventually plan on implementing Svend Tofte's max/min width in Internet Explorer hack to get around some nasty bugs in IE. Firefox will continue to render the page as is. I hope to get both browsers to allow the content text to flex up to 35ems but no more than that. For people running at lower screen resolutions the content will (eventually) be able to scale down to whatever screen size they are using with the exception of any thing smaller than the left column x2 (i.e. PDAs and such) which will be given a different style sheet. All of this is simply to ensure optimal readability (i.e the 4" rule of print). Let me know if the line length on the article pages is to narrow or to wide.
Cognitive load and the rule of seven (or how many is too many)
Ok, so I have done some deep researching about "how many is too many" (as far as links and information bits on a page) and I thought I would share some of this with the Digital Web Magazine readership. Most of my research pointed to this paper, The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information by George A. Miller, published in 1956 mind you.
To summarize, "The span of absolute judgment and the span of immediate memory impose severe limitations on the amount of information that we are able to receive, process, and remember." Therefore the number of links or bits of information should be kept below seven.
However, my esteemed colleague, Christina Wodtke, was quick to point out that there is much proof on the contrary to this theory: Web Page Design: Implications of Memory, Structure and Scent for Information Retrieval and The Myth of quot;Seven, Plus or Minus 2", etc. Upon her advice I spoke with Victor Lombardi, known expert in the field of Information Architecture, User Experience and Research. He summarized his findings in this area for me quite nicely:
- Breadth vs. depth is the wrong question to ask, it's irrelevant to the user experience
- The number of links and density of links is what people experience
- Different audiences and applications will want different a different number and density of links
- Once you find the number and density (guess + usability testing) you just prioritize information:
- some things will fall naturally into taxonomies
- some will fall naturally into task-based navigation
- the rest is probably all about priority, so as you reach your number and density limit, push lower priority stuff to the next level down
Keith also has some pretty good information on this subject in his article The One Magic Rule of Web Design.
Heuristics for Search
Lou Rosenfeld has a great post about IA Heuristics for Search Systems. I only wish that this was published about a month or so ago, I could really have used it. I think one of the other things that should be covered is understanding the difference of quick search, standard search, and/or advanced search. Nevertheless, this is a good read and worth bookmarking.
Holiday e-commerce ideas
Jason Fried tells me that 37signals launched their tis the season: holiday e-commerce ideas site. Yes, it's like 114 days until the holidays but if we're not talking shopping, we're talking redesigning. In this site you will find several design and usability tips to make your customer's online shopping experience more pleasant.
New Issue of Digital Web Magazine
This week Digital Web Magazine is proud to have Sarah Horton, co-author of the best-selling Web Style Guide, join us with a great article on a partnered approach to user-centered design. Her article is entitled "Forging a partnership between designer and user." If you ever heard me complain about designers who don't let the user control line length, font size or much less anything else, this is what I am talking about and Sarah puts it into words far better than I ever could. It's time for designers to start letting go a little and recognizing the web medium for what it is; dynamic. That's all for this week, see you next week with more great content by web industry experts.
New Issue of Evolt
A few new articles are out at Evolt today, Dynamic Elements - cloak and dagger web design by Chris Heilmann and Ten CSS tricks you may not know by Trenton Moss. Both great reads. Wheew, ok, I think that's it for the new e-zine content today.
New Issue of Boxes and Arrows
Well, seems like Tuesday's is the day to be publishing e-zines. A new issue of Boxes and Arrows is out. In this issue is Site Diagrams: Mapping an Information Space by Jason Withrow and Why Is That Thing Beeping? A Sound Design Primer by Max Lord which explores the audible identity of a product or design.
New Issue of WPDFD
Joe Gillespie has a new issue of Web Page Design for Designers out. In this issue is a great article by Joe that cover absolute positioning and relative positioning in CSS. The article is entitled Absolutely relative, of course. Also in this issue is Paper vs. Pixels, Part 2. In part 1 Joe examined some of the vital differences between designing for print and for the Web. Now, he looks at some other factors that seem equally nebulous but have to be understood and accommodated. Go check it out.