Posts tagged ‘design’

Great user experiences: Tor.com

Why am I so much more motivated to complain about bad experiences than to praise good ones? It’s certainly not because it’s easier – it takes as much or more energy to complain because you usually get resistance in return. Anyway, I’d like to make more of an effort to point out great user/customer experiences when I have them, and to kick off I’m going to tell you about one of my current favorite websites.

Tor.com is a site geared towards science fiction and fantasy fans. Built by the good folks at Tor Books, it’s an intriguing enterprise in that it’s separate from their corporate site and practices something they call “publisher agnosticism,” which means that some content (actually, a lot of content) is contributed by people who don’t work for or publish with Tor Books. They also sell non-Tor books and merchandise in their store. Cool.

But beyond that, it’s just an excellent site. The blog is consistently interesting, even for a sf/fantasy dabbler like myself. The quality of writing is good, and the topics are varied enough to keep me reading without going so far afield that I lose interest. What hooked me initially were the “re-reads” – they take a popular series (Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time), and write about it in-depth, with plot summaries, commentary, and lots of reader discussion on each post. I totally want to steal this idea for my library – what a great way to run an online book club! And they don’t limit the discussion to books – they also talk about sf & fantasy film and tv, art, the creative process, and more.  I also love the weekly “Saturday Morning Cartoons” post, which highlights wonderful animated shorts.

Another feature I love: they do periodic themes for the site. October was Steampunk month. In December they did 12 Days of Cthulhumas. The theme permeates the whole site – blog posts, giveaways, highlighted items in the store, even the logo gets transformed:

Standard logo:

Steampunk logo:

Cthulhumas logo:

Even though I subscribe to the blog’s feed in Google Reader, I routinely click through to the site to make sure I’m not missing anything – I can’t say that about any other site I subscribe to. Details like this aren’t enough to create a great user experience, but when you have consistently good quality the details can push you into greatness. As I’m working on the redesign of our library website, this is the level of quality I aspire to.

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February 10, 2010 at 8:36 am

Privacy, usability and the path of least resistance

Going back to the issue of privacy – I saw this post at ReadWriteWeb and it confirmed something I’ve suspected for awhile: that although many people claim to be concerned about their privacy online, many of them never use the options available to them for managing their various profiles. In fact, nearly 60% of the people in the study cited didn’t know if their profiles were public or not. This is a perfect example of what Kevin Kelly calls “triumph of the default.” The vast majority of users are stymied by the sheer number of choices available, so they don’t choose (or they choose by not choosing).

I’m exploring this in my work right now with usability testing. We have software and services that are pretty robust and have a lot of features, but most of those features never get used. We’re trying to determine which options are the most useful to most of our customers so we can set intelligent defaults. We don’t want people to have to be super-users to get good results from our site, but it can be difficult to find the balance between ease of use and quality of results. This is one of the reasons we do iterative testing. Test, tweak, test again, tweak some more…the hard part is knowing when to stop.

July 1, 2009 at 8:00 am

New Rules for Web Design

Jeff Wisniewski

Jeff looked at some of the old “rules” of web-design and discussed whether or not they are still relevant.

Design is an inexact science, but there are decades of research in usability, credibility, interface design, and hci; a lot of questions have been answered

Simplicity rules?

  • rich and interactive
  • RIAs
  • the user experience

depends on functions – google can be simple because they have essentially one function; we need to give our users a richer experience

Content is king

  • But, design matters A LOT
  • novice users judge superficially and quickly!
  • Professional design = increased credibility

All content is created equal?

  • Design for what your users are doing
  • emphasize the highest priority tasks so that users have a clear starting point – Nielsen

By the numbers:
Rule of Seven (categories manageable by users):

  • guideline, not a rule
  • persuasive evidence both ways
  • answer depends on context
  • more than 9 – maybe your site lacks focus?

3 click rule:

  • is dead
  • design for SCENT
  • users will happily click so long as they feel they are on the right path

Design for 800×600

  • NO! optimize for 1024×768
  • what of other platforms? (phones, handhelds, etc.) Use CSS media types
  • flexible as opposed to fixed design

Color:

  • majority users browse with 24-bit color rendering
  • RIP websafe palette? Still consider:
    • file size
    • alternative platforms

For redesign inspiration:

  • DON’T check other library websites!!
  • Standards, conventions, and user expectations are established outside of library land…Jacob’s law (users spend most of time on sites other than your site)

How often to redesign?

  • Constantly
  • iterative, evolutionary change
  • revolutionary change is disruptive
  • a/b testing: post two versions of page with ONE difference (placement of item on page, e.g.);compare use
  • sometimes a tear down is required
  • think about major destinations on the web, amazon, ebay, yahoo, etc. – constant iterative change

Follow your own conventions

  • is reference “reference” on your website (n.b. It shouldn’t be!)
  • carry web conventions through physical space and other publications
  • style guidelines across print & electronic media

But follow established web conventions

  • home link upper left
  • clickable banner
  • contact us link
  • placement of navigation

greater bandwidth= design freedom?

  • Two trends: more high-speed access
  • more non-traditional devices on relatively slower networks (apple iPhone)

I must support all browsers

  • for basic content – yes!
  • Accessibility is critical and the right thing to do
  • for value-added content, style and interactivity?
  • Graded support aka progressive enhancement

providing a text-only version of your homepage or site?

  • Separate presentation and content with css and you won’t need a separate version

Avoid css for layout…it’s buggy

  • yes, but no longer enough to justify not using it
  • stop using tables for layout

top of page is prime real estate?

  • Actually, it’s useless space…banner blindness
  • Nielsen: people have a tendency to never look at a slim rectangular are that’s above the page’s main headline

Popups

  • will very likely be blocked – nothing mission critical
  • can be useful when linking to supporting information

Flash is evil?

Mouseover menus

  • raise usability considerations
  • They’re slower, not scanable (preventing users from getting an overview)

Opening links in new browser window

  • is sometimes okay: external links, non-web docs: PDFs, etc.
  • help files
  • TELL users
  • tabbed browsers make this less of an issue

Never create an “auto forward” it breaks the back button

  • server side redirects are best
  • Set auto forward time high enough to allow users to use back button

Scrolling is bad

  • users scroll if there is a clue that there is something below the fold
  • use the fashionable “cut off” look – content doesn’t break evenly, so users have an indicator that more content exists

Keep it above the fold

  • true for most important content
  • 76% of users scrolled and a good portion scroll to the bottom, despite height of window

Images of people

  • generally increase trust (unless they’re really good-looking people)
  • naturally draw attention – this may not be a good thing…distraction
  • people, labeled, increase credibility the most

RIA=rich internet application (ajax, flex technologies)

good sites & features;

October 30, 2007 at 10:50 am


"To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong." - Pearce

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