Why Design and Develop Good Web site Interfaces?
An excellent question if I don't say so myself! Development and design of web site
interfaces for usability and navigation is a must if the web is to continue the fast
growth it is experiencing at present. Far too many sites are trying to be KEWL using
interfaces that require plugins, have terrible navigation and in too many cases are
nothing more than exercises in creativity by the designer. Don't get me wrong! I'm not
saying there should be no creativity, just that it has its place.
I read an article a short time ago that had some figures that as a site developer made
me sit up and take notice. In the article they discussed the growth of the web. They
mentioned how in a given time the net had grown by 20,000,000 users and in that same
period of time 9,000,000 had left the net. As a developer the second number was far more
important then the first.
Yes, the web's user base is growing at a phenomenal rate but if it's going to maintain
this growth rate it can't loose almost half of those users a short time later. Even more
enlightening was the reason. Usability!
The most common reply to the question of why they quit using the web was that "it
is the domain of geeks and nerds,". I read this to mean domain of the computer
Personally, I don't believe the problem is computer illiteracy, it's all those poorly
designed sites that only the Amazing Kreskin could figure out the navigation or what link
to take to find what you are looking for.
Unfortunately, _____'s Cool Home Pages aren't the only sites exasperating the newbies.
Some of the sites are icons of quality in the real world.
The research that resulted from reading that article led me to a number of sites that
shed some light on the problem and what we in the development community can do to
alleviate it. Some of the sites have done extensive research on the user interface.
Jakob Nielsen maintains this site. He has been quoted as saying there should be a standard
interface for all sites. Mr. Nielsen's background is primarily in software interfaces
where the interface is based on loose standards so his solution is based on what's worked
functionally speaking in software programs. This isn't really a solution that should be
considered for the web because the goals of a web site are different from those of a
Yes, a web site should be very functional but it must sell goods and services or
dispense information for the web to be viable from a business standpoint. This is what we
are struggling to find. That middle ground between functionality and for lack of a better
The last site I went to researching this subject was a jaundiced eye.com maintained by Steve
Champeon. Steve calls the organization that is featured in the press release and article
DULL (Designers for Uninventive Lame Layout). The article is a parody of the design and
layout on many sites such as c|net. We all know he's referring to the nav bar down the
left side of the screen.
Using this interface isn't exactly inventive design, however, it is a well known and
understood interface quite possibly because sites like c|net are using it. I have
discussed what others think about this subject so now I'm going to add my .02 worth to the
discussion hopefully passing along some tips that will help you find the middle ground.
I'll use two sites I'm currently working on to demonstrate my thoughts.
The "WoD" is a web site featuring web site development and promotion
information where the users are pretty net savvy. The search engine site will draw a less
savvy user so I am designing it so the information and interactive areas are easy to find.
Two of the main differences between the two besides what I've discussed already are the
goals and purposes of the two. The "WoD" is strictly an information site to
showcase my company and what we know and can do. The other is a site where the purpose and
goals are to draw users to the commercial sites it's hosting.
One of the main differences between the two is why the users are there and the time
they have to get what they are looking for. Users of the "WoD" have less time to
find the information so expecting them to use more then two jumps to get specific info is
To accomplish this I use an imagemap at the top of the page to the indexes of
information. On each index page, directly under the image map is a targeted list of topics
for that index page that lead to resources off the site.
Below this is a two celled table with an introduction to the index and the links to my
articles in a colored cell and the anchors to the links off the site in the uncolored
right hand cell. The links on this site have short descriptions of the sites they are
At the bottom of the page is a jump to the top of the page and the indexes are repeated
using text links. This is the only similarity between the two sites.
The "WoD" was designed before I read much of the research material. The
search engine site was designed after reading the User Interface Engineering article that
makes a point of explaining that some users prefer to take an ordered path to the
information not minding as many as six jumps as long as each takes them closer to their
The search engine default page has the five indexes listed with detailed explanations
of what's in each index. The index pages use the DULL method outlined earlier using icons
in the border and text links in the content.
Using text links in the content and at the bottom of the page gives these less
experienced users more then one opportunity to find the area of the site they are trying
find. I also use longer descriptions of the links here so the user will always know
exactly what is on a page they are clicking to.
To end this discussion I will just pass along something a chef I apprenticed under once
told me about planning a function "use the KISS method for this one". I am a
strong believer in the KISS method of design. KISS stands for KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID!
Resources for article:
Jakob Nielsen maintains this site with articles discussing his research on user interfaces
for software and the net.
maintained by Steve Champeon featuring well written articles on a variety of topics of
interest to site designers.