Usability ROI Declining, But Still Strong

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The expected improvement from usability is smaller than it used to be for two reasons:

  • We have now harvested most of the low-hanging fruit from the truly horrible websites that dominated the lost decade of Web usability (approximately 1993–2003). In those early years, Web design was abominable — think splash screens, search that didn’t find anything, bloated graphics everywhere. The only good thing about these early designs was that they were so bad that it was easy for usability people to be heroes: even the smallest study would inevitably reveal several immense opportunities for improvement.
  • Usability budgets have not increased substantially, even as the Web has gotten better. As the full report discusses in detail, during the last decade, the share of project resources allocated to usability has held steady at around 10% in those enlightened companies that include usability in their design lifecycle. Yes, many more companies do usability now than ever before. However, individual projects don’t see much more funding, even though they’re now challenged with identifying a higher level of design improvements.

January 22nd 2008 Alertbox

10 Best Intranets of 2008

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The winners of the award for 10 best-designed intranets for 2008 are:

  • Bank of America, US
  • Bankinter S.A., Spain
  • Barnes & Noble, US
  • British Airways, UK
  • Campbell Soup Company, US
  • Coldwell Banker Real Estate Corporation, US
  • IKEA North America Service, LLC, US
  • Ministry of Transport, New Zealand
  • New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, Australia
  • SAP AG, Germany

Most of the winning designs are traditional, company-wide intranets, but IKEA won for its regional intranet covering North America. Also, Coldwell Banker’s intranet works somewhat like an extranet: it connects 3,800 independently owned and operated residential and commercial real estate offices, while appearing to users as a local office intranet rather than a corporate intranet.

January 7th 2008 Alertbox

Good AJAX: An Example

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A good example of using AJAX to create effective page-area updates is found on E-Trade’s stock quote pages. Each page shows a chart of a stock’s price over time. Users can change the time-interval’s length (say, from three months to one year) by clicking simple links. Appropriately, such clicks update the chart, but not the rest of the page, which contains other information about the stock. This partial updating works because it appears right next to the click zone and is a clear consequence of the user’s action.

December 18th 2007 Alertbox

Web 2.0 Can Be Dangerous

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As illustrated in a sidebar, an AJAX feature can work well on a website. And our testing did find one usable AJAX shopping cart. As always, the real question is not technology, but usability. If you use technology right, it can help sales. Still, the risk is typically too high with new technology because best practices haven’t jelled yet. You can’t just emulate designs you see around the Web — they’re likely to be bad because they were hacked together by geeks drunk on the newest and coolest tech. And, sadly, "newest and coolest" usually translates into "untried and unusable" — and thus money-losing.

[Jakob forgot to mention "Ajax Sucks".]

December 18th 2007 Alertbox

Intranet Information Architecture (IA)

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Information about departments or divisions was a top-level category in 46% of intranets, and there was a very long tail of additional categories found in a smaller proportion of intranets.

When we started this project, we had hoped to produce a recommended IA for intranets. Although structural diversity ultimately made this an impossible goal, we did identify an IA skeleton that projects can use as a starting point and adapt to their local circumstances.

Many intranets follow several general patterns. Certain types of companies also tend to follow particular trends. For example, manufacturing companies often include a product-related category in their top-level navigation, whereas companies with a focus on intellectual property often present a top-level knowledge management (KM) category.

November 27th 2007 Alertbox

Long vs. Short Articles as Content Strategy

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Typically, people who really need something are the highest-value users because they’re more likely to turn into paying customers. That’s why I recommended writing articles instead of blog postings.
But the very best content strategy is one that mirrors the users’ mixed diet. There’s no reason to limit yourself to only one content type. It’s possible to have short overviews for the majority of users and to supplement them with in-depth coverage and white papers for those few users who need to know more.

Of course, the two user types are often the same person — the one who’s usually in a hurry, but is sometimes in thorough-research mode. In fact, our studies of B2B users show that business users often aren’t very familiar with the complex products or services they’re buying and need simple overviews to orient themselves before they begin more in-depth research.

November 13th 2007 Alertbox

High-Cost Usability Sometimes Makes Sense

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When it comes to selecting usability methods, there are many parameters to consider, and many different scenarios. That’s why both expensive and cheap usability methods make sense under the appropriate circumstances.

November 6th 2007 Alertbox

Generic Commands

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One of the big criticisms of iPhone version 1.0’s user experience is that it doesn’t support cut-copy-paste, even though users definitely expect these commands in any modern design.
The cut-copy-paste triad wasn’t the original generic editing command set. The original designers at Xerox PARC used move-copy-delete. If you think about it, these two triads both map to all common user actions, they just do it in different ways

October 29th 2007 Alertbox