Web Communications

    A Couple of Useful Check-Lists.

    Key Words

    • Posted on by Doug Widner
    • Another important lesson we’ve learned through our usability tests is the importance of key words.

      One of our tasks in a subset of our usability testing was this: Arrange a visit to campus. The key words here are “visit campus.” Unfortunately, two separate tracks use those key words and end up describing significantly different purposes.

      One track belongs to Admissions and the other to the college Visitors’ Center.

      The “visit campus” track that belongs to Admissions is targeted to prospective applicants and their families. A visit to campus for a face-to-face interview with an admissions counselor has both prerequisites and specific outcomes. There are on-line forms to fill out and several web pages to peruse. If you read carefully you will come to understand the nature of this proposed visit to campus. If, on the other hand, you merely scan, you could end up wasting your time.

      The Visitors’ Center “visit campus” spiel is tourist-directed. Its focus is on campus tours, student crafts and what else can be seen and done on and around the campus.

      Some of our testers answered the task to “arrange a visit to campus” by explaining the admissions process that begins by filling out a “request a visit” form.

      Our take away on that experience was to compose this short note and embed it in the right side bar of the Admission’s “Visit Our Campus!” page:

      Blurb about tourist visits.

    Applauding User Testing

    • Posted on by Doug Widner
    • I have become a Huge Fan of usability studies also known as user testing. Our team has finished several dozen user tests. The result of each test is a video of the test subject’s computer screen while s/he tries to complete a “task” on our web site. The test subject is also talking to us (being recorded), keeping us apprised of why he’s doing what he’s doing, what problems or surprises he runs into. For our purposes a single user test involves about 5 tasks to accomplish and 5 testers from a predetermined demographic (e.g., age, income range, U.S.-based, etc.).

      Some of the things we’ve learned so far:

      It’s true that some web users prefer “navigation” and others prefer “search.” The “navigators” look for landmarks on the page and click deeper until they begin to feel they’re on the right track, give up, or they accomplish the task. The “searchers” go straight to the search function and enter keywords they’ve derived from the task. The take-home? Web sites have to employ both navigation and search. Tabs and hyperlinks need to use language the visitor understands and can associate with the task at hand. Search functionality needs to work well, serving up a list of possible pages with enough detail for the user to associate the appropriate list item with the task.

      It’s also true that visitors to your web site will check the home page (at least) from top to bottom. They expect the persistent “homepage link” to be in the top left of every page and the search function to be obvious in the top right. If they don’t find an appropriate link in the space between the header and footer, they will scan links listed in the footer.

      So called “sliders” are variously animated ways of presenting images and info graphics typically at or near the top of homepages and landing pages. Dozens of subsites in berea.edu use sliders to engage their visitors. Many of the slides contain text and often the slide hyperlinks to a page of related information. We’ve learned from our user tests that depending on a slider to get visitors to a certain point is a bad idea. The predominant animation at work in a slider is the periodic change-out of every image — typically every few seconds — and many sliders contain enough images to mean any one image will only be visible for a few seconds per minute. If the link your visitor needs is not readily apparent in the slider, the visitor is not likely to hang around.

      So far what we’ve learned from our user tests has given us dozens of ways to improve the current berea.edu and inform the design and development of our upcoming mobile-friendly version. I’ll share more in future posts.

    Resist Forcing New Tabs in the Browser

    • Posted on by Doug Widner
    • Here’s a typical Edit tool bar in WordPress and a red arrow pointing to the oft-used “insert hyperlink” tool:

      hyperlink-#1 Clicking that tool brings up this window:


      You have already selected a word or two of your copy, so now you type the URL you want people to get to when they click on the hyperlink word(s). Notice the check box? If you check that you are going to open the destination URL in a new window or tab in your user’s browser. That can be very annoying! If you typically check those boxes on your hyperlinks you could confuse your user beyond his or her tolerance. Bye bye user.

      Good practice is to reserve checking this box unless the link takes the user out of your site… For a complete argument about this, visit this site:

      http://www.htmlgoodies.com/primers/html/article.php/3890416 (Oh, by the way: clicking this link will open a new tab in your browser!)

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