10 ways to enhance your site’s usability

23 April 2010 by Anna Mieczakowski  
Filed under News and views

Many websites have structure, layout and features which are largely unusable for less capable users, such as older people and people with disabilities. What surprises me the most is that, although older people are the fastest-growing segment of Internet users and supposedly have a lot of disposable income, the vast majority of companies struggle to gear up their websites for accommodating the needs and wants of heterogeneous users. There is a a twofold moral and financial incentive for creating simple and intuitive designs as industry studies show that well-designed products and services have the potential to improve customer satisfaction and this in turn allows companies which value good design to exhibit high growth.

So, to walk many website companies out of the dark with regard to web usability, I looked at the research of Jakob Nielsen, the leading web usability consultant, Usability.gov, as well as different usability writers, such as Bill Scott and Theresa Neil (”Designing Web Interfaces“), Jared Spool and colleagues (”Web Site Usability: A Designers’s Guide“) and Steve Krug (”Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability“), and collated a list of 10 most important ways of improving your website’s ease of use. These include:

  1. Place a link to the home page on every page in case a user gets lost.
  2. Provide a clear and complete ‘about us’ page and ‘contact’ page.
  3. Make your most important links visible and easy to read.
  4. Eliminate captcha systems or mandatory logins.
  5. Create multiple access points to important content like subscription options.
  6. Place your advertisements in places where they don’t interfere with the main content.
  7. Avoid cluttering your sidebar with unnecessary links or widgets.
  8. Provide targeted content and links in the post footers.
  9. Use a large, comfortable font and provide space between each paragraph.
  10. And last but not least… Once your site is designed, it is also advisable to ask one or more users (preferably with decreased capability) who have never seen your site before to browse it for 3 minutes as you stand over their shoulder and watch without interrupting their utterances. At the end of the 3 minutes ask your user(s) for feedback and diligently note all the comments. This little usability test will not only make you feel good about being more considerate about the needs of the more disadvantaged sections of the population, but it will also give you valuable feedback on the site’s selling potential from a prospective user and focus your attention on achieving your financial goals.

You need to remember that once a user gets to your site you are only a few clicks away from actually selling something or being left forever, so strategically it really makes sense to be more perceptive to users’ usability issues.

Fast keyboard-free writing with Dasher

19 June 2009 by Anna Mieczakowski  
Filed under News and views

The researchers from the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge developed a usable system called Dasher that allows the the insertion of text in situations wherever a full-size keyboard cannot be used . For example, Dasher can be used:

  • when operating a computer one-handed, by joystick, touchscreen, trackball, or mouse;
  • when operating a computer with zero hands (i.e., by head-mouse or by eyetracker);
  • on a palmtop computer;
  • on a wearable computer.

Dasher is a zooming interface and it contains a vertical line of letters from A to Z. To start typing, you simply point towards the letter you want to start your sentence with and the display zooms in wherever you point. The more you zoom in, the longer the piece of text you have written.

Dasher runs on Microsoft Windows and UNIX systems, it has text predicting functionality and is available in many languages. In addition, just by typing away you can easily train Dasher on using your preferred writing style. So, keep tightly onto your seat and test the usefulness of Dasher in your browser here.

An expert user of Dasher with a mouse as the input device has a writing speed of about 34 words per minute, whereas a novice user writes over 20 words per minute. Furthermore, users of Dasher make fewer errors than people using a conventional keyboard.

Dasher is highly appropriate for computer users with lower ranges of physical capability. It can be driven using a mouse, a trackpad, a touchscreen, a rollerball, or a joystick – any two-dimensional pointing device that can take over the role of a mouse. A foot mouse and a head mouse are additional options. Apparently, the functionality of Dasher has been discussed with Stephen Hawking’s assistant, however, it is yet not known how Stephen Hawking rates the usability and usefulness of this system.

The Kent House Design and Technology Seminar

Throughout the year Kent House run a series of events on various topics including SEO, Design, Website Development and Internet Marketing. On 22 June we will be holding a free seminar on Design and Technology and how getting the balance right can improve your online presence. The event will take place at Keele Hall, Staffordshire.

Download the PDF Invitation for more information.

For this upcoming event we have secured the services of Julius Wiedemann – author of Guidelines for Online Success and one of the World’s leading experts on design and marketing. Julius will be giving the keynote presentation and plans to focus on the evolution of design online and take a look at how design has changed how we do business from branding to emails to mobile marketing.

Our very own Kevin Holdridge, will discuss ways in which design, technology, and marketing can work harmoniously together online. He will show examples of how many companies get this badly wrong, thus wasting their money and damaging their market position.

The seminar aims to help local businesses and organisations understand how to get the best return from investment in online channels such as the Web and email. It will do this by focusing on how to get the relationship right between the technology, design and marketing of a site.

The event would be suited to anyone with an interest in marketing, design and websites and more critically people interested in making their website work harder for them by achieving better results in the Search Engines. I have included the event program below.

If you are interested in attending, please register online or alternatively send me an email with all of your details.

Event Program

Session 1
How we got here – A brief on the evolution of media, communication and design.

Session 2
Your site – Design and Usability – How to integrate great design into your site without compromising on usability.

Session 3
Return on Investment – How to maximise your investment in the online world.

Session 4
Design, usability and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – How to design an effective, easily navigated site yet still do well in Google.

Designing more inclusive websites

30 January 2009 by Anna Mieczakowski  
Filed under News and views

About 10 years ago Professor John Clarkson from the Engineering Design Centre at the University of Cambridge and Professor Roger Coleman from the Helen Hamlyn Centre at the Royal College of Art realised the importance of designing more accessible, usable and desirable products and the value such products bring to the market, and as a result they collaboratively set up 2 Inclusive Design research groups in the UK: one in Cambridge and one in London. Since then, a lot of other UK-based academic and business institutions, including Kent House, recognised the benefit of inclusively-designed products and started they own inclusive design ventures. All these institutions operate from the belief that inclusively-designed products not only minimise the exclusion of less capable users, but they are also easier for everyone else to use.

Inclusive Design Background

Inclusive design is a general approach to designing in which designers ensure that their products and services address the needs of the widest possible audience, irrespective of age or ability. The concept of inclusive design is similar to Universal Design, which is popular in the United States and Japan. However, it is widely accepted in the inclusive design discourse that designing ‘one product for all’ is implausible because people of different ages, capabilities and social and cultural backgrounds prefer different products.

Kent House and Inclusive Design Websites

Kent House believes in the power of inclusive products and services and we have always been stressing the importance of accessible and easy-to-use websites to our clients. In 2006, we conducted an extensive usability study on 303 Primary Care Trust (PCT) websites in the UK and found them to be of poor quality in terms of design, content and effectiveness of communication. As a solution to the problem with PCT websites, we developed the 3C Compliance Model. The results of the study were published in the British Journal of Healthcare Computing & Information Management in February 2007.

Kent House and the University of Cambridge

In the pursuit of even more understanding on inclusive design and the need to further develop guidance on how to design more  accessible and usable products and services, I joined the Inclusive Design research group at the University of Cambridge as a PhD student in October 2007. My work focuses on modelling interaction between product features and human capabilities. I am particularly interested in finding out whether product designers really consider heterogeneous users during their designs, and if so, whether they use any models or frameworks to ensure that their products meet the needs and wants of  users with varied capability. I am also interested in finding out more about the goals and actions of heterogenous users when they interact with daily living products.

Since I have been working with the Inclusive Design group, I have introduced the vision impairment simulator to the Kent House team in order to help our graphic designers understand how declined vision affects the ability to interact with our websites and as way of testing if our websites can be seen by people with reduced capability.

Kent House in 48-Hour Design Challenge

28 January 2009 by Anna Mieczakowski  
Filed under News and views

In November 2008, I was asked to take part in the 48-Hour Inclusive Design Challenge in Tokyo. The Challenge was collaboratively organised by the Royal College of Art Helen Hamlyn Centre, Nikkei Design and Tokyo University, and its theme was disaster related. All participants were divided in 3 design team consisting of, among others, in-house designers from leading Japanese companies, engineering graduates from the University of Cambridge and the University of Tokyo, and a member of the Kent House family. Each team worked with one disabled person and one survivor of the Niigata or Kobe earthquakes and was led by an experienced designer from the UK. The aim of the Challenge was to develop innovative mainstream products, services or environments that would be assistance in disaster and would include the needs of disabled people. The results of the competition were then presented to Design Innovation Forum delegates from industry and academia on November 25 and published in “Nikkei Design” and in “Challenge” published by Helen Hamlyn Centre.

I was a member of the third team (Team C) and our main contribution to the Design Innovation Forum 2008 was the proposition of the ‘Know Your Way’ campaign, which stressed the importance of preparing and establishing a mental image of where the exits in a building are and how to get to them before a disaster strikes. My team created a logo for the campaign, which was represented in Japanese kanji characters and in direct translation it meant that ‘knowledge leads your way out’. We used international signage iconography as the basis of the logo’s design, with the additional depth of meaning in the character itself. Moreover, the fact that the kanji character looked like a person allowed the logo to work across languages. Since one of the crucial actions to take during the times of a disaster is to remain calm, our logo was represented in blue, which signifies calmness in Japanese.

The campaign developed by my team was warmly accepted by the panel of 3 disaster experts and over 300 delegates, and as a result awarded for the “Best Solution” project. So, yet another trophy has been added to the Kent House cabinet of fame.

The participation in the Inclusive Design Challenge was a truly insightful and mind-broadening experience as Kent House has always been in favour of the Inclusive Design philosophy and adopted the user centric approach to the creation of our products and services. It was also a very valuable experience to work directly with Japanese designers and engineers and observe their views, work ethics and decision-making processes.