7. The Web Site

This chapter examines the Web site as a whole, in regards to seven specific design issues:

  1. Conceptualizing the site with a visitor-centered focus
  2. Positioning the content
  3. Speeding up the response time
  4. Smoothing the navigation
  5. Assuring reasonable confidence in site security and privacy
  6. Making the site visible
  7. Maintaining quality

As previously noted, these design issue will supersede those on the page level (which is discussed in the next chapter).

7.1 Conceptualizing the Site with a Visitor-Centered Focus

The site's genre embodies its purpose. On the site level, the characteristics of the target audience are the main consideration.

7.1.1 Keep the User in Focus

Designing to the specific users of a site is a better approach than general demographics. Monitoring usage statistics can gather technical details. Having users fill out a questionnaire to register is a way of gathering non-technical details.

7.1.2 Site Personalization

The author buys into the concept of personalization, allowing each user to customize the information presented to him, as well as the design of the site, based not only on the user's stated preferences, but their behavior and actions on the site.

7.2 Positioning the Content

Determining the content of the site is an early step, and content owners, writers, and SMEs should be involved.

7.2.1 Specifying the Goals

Simply stated, consider the goals the user is seeking to achieve by visiting the site.

7.2.2 Specifying the Tasks

Tasks should be designed to help the user accomplish the goals.

7.2.3 Organizing Site and Content

On the site level, the content should be organized according to the tasks users perform, recalling that there are multiple audiences, each of which performs multiple tasks.

One suggestion for organizing information is card-sorting (Nielsen 1994): each topic is written on a card (or post-it note), and subjects are asked to sort and group them. The groups become the topics, the items within a group are further arranged into subtopics or pages. This has become a common practice - but the key is that the users, rather than content owner or designer - should make the decisions.

There is also the concept of "subsites," a section of a site that functions as a self-contained whole, such that users who enter that section of the site can perform all tasks without having to visit other sections of the site.

EN: this seems specific to organizing information (text content) rather that performing tasks (interactive content). The two are interrelated, but the author doesn't seem to touch on that, at least not yet.

Once this is completed, the designer can then focus on organizing the information into pages (see chapter 8)

7.3 Speeding Up the Response

System response time is a significant factor in site design - but it is an important factor; regardless of the user's level of experience or expertise, response time makes their tasks take longer (hence improving response time makes tasks more efficient for all users). The author cites surveys in 1996 and 1997 that cite slow response time as the top problem reported by users

EN: The studies cited are dated, and the author even refers to 28k modem as the standard user (56k modems being new at the time, I guess), which is no longer the case with the spread of broadband. My sense is response time remains important, but guidelines need not be so stringent, unless is it known that a specific site's audience has limited capabilities.

7.4 Smoothing the Navigation

Navigation refers to the path the user must follow to arrive at the page where they can begin their task. It refers to flow from the home page to their first task, as well as from the end page of one task to the beginning of the next task.

7.4.1 Human Navigational Strategies

In physical space, people learn to navigate spaces by learning the location of landmarks, then learning the routes between them, and ultimately to knowing the territory in detail. This analogy is extended to the Web: the user learns the location of a specific page within the context of a site, learns a route to that page (sequence of links to get there), and eventually gains knowledge of the site as a whole.

For learning the structure of a site, the author suggests two formats: a list format and a visual layout (example: a mall directory has a list of stores, but also shows the layout of shops). The list format is more efficient for experienced users, whereas the map is more helpful to novice users.

EN: No statistics on this - maybe need to find usability studies that confirm or perhaps suggest a different approach.

7.4.2 Well-Defined versus Ill-Defined Task Statements

A "task statement" explains what is necessary for successful performance of a given task - from the way it is described, it seems to indicate a list of instructions (do this, then do this, then do this).

To be "well-defined", the task statement must detail the outcome, the sequence of steps along the way, criteria for succeeding at each step, and what the outcome will be. The user who does the proper things, in the proper order, as indicated, should encounter no surprises that violate his expectations.

7.4.3 Navigating in Real-World Environments

Back to real-world environments: people explore an environment in search of a specific object. In doing so, we learn about parts of the environment that are not relevant to our present need, but may be relevant to future needs.

7.4.4 Navigating in Hyperspace

Web navigation is said to be similar to real-world navigation as described above, though the environment is defined conceptually rather than physically.

EN: Also recall that objects in the real world have a spatial relationship to one another that is limited to three dimensions and locked in place. Given hypertext, there are many possible "paths" from one item to another, and the positions of objects to one another is imperceptible.

7.4.5 Navigational Aids

Specific advice follows for a handful of common navigational devices.


Buttons and Controls

Site Maps, Content Lists, and Indexes

Landmarks and History Trails

Keywords and Site Search Engines

7.5 Assuring Reasonable Confidence in the Site's Privacy and Security

The distinction between the two topics is that privacy involves collecting personal information from visitors and security involves securing that information against unauthorized access.

Regarding privacy: full disclosure, in advance, of any private information the site will collect is not merely etiquette, it is necessary to defend against lawsuits.

Regarding security: it is important for a site to be secure, technically, but from a user perspective, it is important for the site owner to assure the user that the site is secure.

7.6 Making the Site Visible

This is more of a marketing that a usability issue: the site should be promoted to its target audience, by a variety means - including search engine submission, traditional promotion, paid advertising, etc.

The author has some random advice, but I'll skip it - it's off topic, and far from comprehensive.

7.7 Maintaining Quality

EN: The author presents a succotash of random bits of advice under the vague banner of "quality." I don't see much value in this, nor is there much evidence/authority to support it, so I'm skipping it.