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in the news

calling all Australian web designers

The Sydney Morning Herald [18/7/2006]

The organisers of a conference on web design are encouraging web designers to focus on usability rather than "eye candy".

See PDF attachment below.
Australian Web designers.pdf

gadget firms tackled on usability

BBC News [15/5/2006]

Technology firms are being targeted in a bid to make hardware and software easier to use for everyone. The initiative, backed by disability charities and big firms like BT, aims to make hi-tech firms take usability more seriously. They want to get companies thinking about how to make goods and services easy to use while design work is done. Firms signing up will be expected to make big changes to all the things they do that customers encounter.

See attached PDF below.
Gadget firms tackled on usability.pdf

government sites fail web tests

BBC News [30/3/2006]

Some 60% of UK government websites contain HTML errors, according to a study by the University of Southampton. A similar proportion do not comply with guidelines created to improve web access.

See attached PDF below.
government sites fail tests.pdf

IT drives wedge between workers

Computing, [15/01/2007]

A lack of user-friendly technology in the marketplace is exacerbating a digital divide in the workforce between those who can use technology effectively and those who can't and is likely to provoke a backlash among users, according to a new Technology Predictions for 2007 report from consultancy Deloitte, released today.

poor usability marks for Australian banking websites

The Sydney Morning Herald [27/7/2006]

Four of Australia's largest banks have received the thumbs down in a review of their online banking systems with the ANZ emerging as "the best of a bad bunch".

The study, conducted by US research group Forrester, found that illegible text, poor layouts and missing information were just some of the major design flaws that forced customers to turn to more expensive call centres and branches, or even to seek out alternative offerings from competitors.

"Each of the major banks could save more than $7 million a year by making their sites easier to use," the researcher said.

To come up with its findings, Forrester applied an international website review methodology to the ANZ, CBA, NAB and Westpac websites.

The methodology has been created over seven years and results are based on findings from two individual analysts who independently test a number of criteria including content, page layout, navigation, formatting, interactivity, help functions, security and overall performance.

Each of the banks needed to score a minimum of 25 out of 50 points to pass the review and meet best practice ratings. Instead they achieved scores of between -4 and -12.

To test out the sites, reviewers acted on advice from each of the banks that researching home loans and credit card deals were the top two reasons for visits to public areas on their websites. However when they set about the task of finding out about these products on each of the sites, they encountered some serious obstacles.

Presentation was cited in the report as being the most common shortcoming of the websites, all of which were hampered either by illegible text, missing content or poor page layout.

Forrester said Westpac scored the lowest in this category with -9 out of a possible 18 points.

"To effectively use its [Westpac's] site, users need the dexterity of a 15-year-old to accurately use the rollover menus, a magnifying glass to read the text, and a lot of patience to made through the material," the report said.

The other banks scored an equal of -4 each in this area and the NAB site's layout was criticised for being especially hard to scan.

Each of the banking websites was also marred by serious design flaws including buried content, site errors and over-reliance on rollover menus, which can cause "misfires", said reviewers.

CBA scored the lowest at -4 in this category because its home page gave no indication that visitors could actually research and apply for a credit card or home loan online, and it was also missing important data such as key credit card fees.

Since people will only spend an average of eight seconds looking at a page, it's critical to make an impact with the home page to convert prospects online," the report said.

ANZ on the other hand, made its customers click through five pages before they could even get started on a home loan application after attempts to apply directly from the home loan page failed.

On a more positive note, providing feedback on users' actions and helping them recover from errors, proved to be the strongest elements of the websites, and both CBA and NAB were praised for allowing users to save some online applications for later completion.

Westpac was deemed the most robust of all the sites with no minor or major errors experienced and swift page downloads, earning it a 7 out of 12 ranking that matched global best practise standards.

However the report concluded that it was ANZ's value-added calculators that set it ahead of its competitors.

"Impressively, its site goes out of its way with user friendly calculators to help visitors understand and choose the most appropriate ANZ Bank product for their needs," Forrester said.

It advised the banks to address their shortcomings by embracing a "design-centric culture" and learning from international peers such as http://www.bankofamerica.com, which uses a tab system to present rates and fees without clutter.

the ten most violated homepage design guidelines

Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox [10/11/2003]

A bit dated, but Jakob Nielsen remains the usability guru. Here he presents ten usability mistakes that he says about two-thirds of corporate websites make - including sites with significant investment in usable design.

See attached PDF below.
Ten Most Violated Homepage Design Guidelines.pdf

top ten mistakes in web design

Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox [updated 2004]

Author's summary: The ten most egregious offenses against users. Web design disasters and HTML horrors are legion, though many usability atrocities are less common than they used to be. Since my first attempt in 1996, I have compiled many top-10 lists of the biggest mistakes in Web design. This article presents the highlights: the very worst mistakes of Web design.

See attached PDF below.
Top Ten Mistakes in Web Design.pdf

translating the web: web site development for an Asian audience

The UPA Voice [December 2006]

By: Jacqueline Sinex

In all aspects of marketing, the Eastern world is breaking through to the West. More and more businesses are expanding product lines and services into a new market that involves countries in East Asia. Whether a business forms an alliance with a Chinese company to use its resources for a project, or it sells directly to Japanese consumers, it is clear that key media materials should be appropriate for Asian audiences.

usability is in the details

Peter Abrahams: IT-Director.com [18/8/2006]

The usability, and also the accessibility, of a system can be greatly improved by small changes to the detail of the user interface. I have realised this when comparing my response to very similar looking websites. In particular I use the Royal Bank of Scotland on-line personal digital banking service and some of the details of design make my experience attractive and stress free. Based on examples from this site I have tried to create some general examples of good practice.

An on-line banking system is about putting information in and getting limited amounts of information out. It requires filling out forms of varying complexity and so is a keyboard-intensive type of activity and my preference in this environment is to keep my hands on the keyboard and not to have to use the mouse. For me this improves the user experience, however for people with visual or motor impairments it may mean the difference between a site that is practical to use and one that is just too hard.

So what details make this easier for me?

Logging on
The first screen is obviously a log on screen, which requires a userid to be typed in. Where should the cursor be when I first open this page? In the entry field of course; but so many sites have the cursor in its default position at the top left of the screen and before you enter any information you either have to cursor through various menu items or use the mouse.

Having typed in the userid what do you want to do? Hit enter and go to the next screen of the logon; but many sites either force you to cursor to the ¡¥next¡¦ button or click on it.

The next step of logging on is putting in some of the letters of your password. The site randomly requests, say the first, third and ninth letter of the password. This is obviously more secure than asking for the whole of the password, but it is more difficult for the user unless the page is well set out. Some sites I have seen ask all three questions together and then have one field for all of them to be entered; this can cause problems for people with dyslexia and also screen reader users. The RBS screen has each question on a separate line with an entry box for a single character. The cursor is automatically positioned at the first entry field and when an entry is made jumps to the next (with a screen reader each question is read out at the right moment).

Interestingly I have been playing with a screen reader and find that for this activity I react faster to the question being read out aloud than I do to reading the question myself.

Navigating around a well structured website is normally easy with a mouse, you just click on the required link. Navigating without a mouse can be much more tedious as the main method is to use the tab key. The tab key takes you from one link to the next, unfortunately in nearly all sites the actually content of the page is at the end of the tab order. Some sites have added help for screen readers by having the first links hidden (so they do not appear on the screen) but they do get read aloud by the reader. These links say things such as ¡¥skip to menus¡¦ or ¡¥skip to content¡¦ so the blind user can skip straight to what they need to use. If you are a savvy user who can read the links in the status bar you can work out that this is happening and take advantage of the short cuts but it is a bit hit and miss. The RBS site has a better answer¡Xif you tab to these links a pop up window tells you what it does so that it becomes easily usable by people who can see.

When entering transactions there is always more than one screen so after the first screen there is a ¡¥back¡¦ button as well as a ¡¥next¡¦ button. The obvious positioning is that the ¡¥back¡¦ button should be on the left of the screen and the ¡¥next¡¦ on the right. The problem with this is that the natural tendency is for tabbing to go left to right, so when you tab out of the last entry field you go to the ¡¥back¡¦ button, which is generally not what you want. RBS have again got this right by swapping the tab order so that the ¡¥next¡¦ button comes first.

Some people may think that this is all too detailed, but my experience suggests that small detailed changes can make a real difference to the user experience and that can make a real difference to the loyalty of the users.

I would like to thank RBS for the examples I have used.

I would be very interested to hear, from developers or users, of similar details that have been put into other user interfaces.

websites face four-second cut-off

BBC NEWS [09/11/2006]

Shoppers are likely to abandon a website if it takes longer than four seconds to load, a survey suggests.

The research by Akamai revealed users' dwindling patience with websites that take time to show up.

It found 75% of the 1,058 people asked would not return to websites that took longer than four seconds to load.

The time it took a site to appear on screen came second to high prices and shipping costs in the list of shoppers' pet-hates, the research revealed.

Akamai consulted those who shop regularly online to find out what they like and dislike about e-tailing sites. About half of mature net-shoppers - who have been buying online for more than two years or who spend more than $1,500 (¢G788) a year online - ranked page-loading time as a priority.

It found that one-third of those questioned abandon sites that take time to load, are hard to navigate or take too long to handle the checkout process.

The four-second threshold is half the time previous research, conducted during the early days of the web-shopping boom, suggested that shoppers would wait for a site to finish loading.

To make matters worse, the research found that the experience shoppers have on a retail site colours their entire view of the company behind it.

About 30% of those responding said they formed a "negative perception" of a company with a badly put-together site or would tell their family and friends about their experiences.

Further research by Akamai found that almost half of the online stores in the list of the top 500 US shopping sites take longer than the four-second threshold to finish loading.

The survey questioned 1,058 net shoppers during the first six months of 2006.

why change hurts

Samar Farah: CIO Magazine [1/8/2006]

Change hurts. That¡¦s not a metaphorical statement. Change¡Xthe hope of all innovative corporate leaders¡Xinduces a physiological reaction in the brain that results in stress, discomfort and pain.
Scientists have known that for years. The news, according to UCLA research psychiatrist Jeffrey M. Schwartz and leadership guru David Rock, is that by focusing attention on certain insights and ideas, humans¡Xand even large, inertia-anguished companies¡Xcan combat this physical resistance to change.

When a person¡¦s expectations are challenged, the brain fires a distress signal. But say an employee comes up with a way to cope with a new demand. Then the Aha!¡Xthe moment of insight¡Xcreates enough positive energy in the brain to counter the negative feelings about change. In leadership lingo, if employees are going to embrace change, they need to own it.

A leader's role, according to Rock, is to help facilitate insight across the organization. But that's not all. Individual brains are shaped by behavior. That means that in the long run, leaders who make a habit out of change can undo the hardwiring that causes brains to fight it. "If you can create in your organization a powerful expectation of change, then you can begin to create a counterbalance to these physiological reactions," Schwartz says.

The Rock and Schwartz approach has implications for time-honored leadership techniques:

  • Incentives - carrots and sticks - are ineffective at an individual level.
  • Sharing your own solutions and insights with employees has limited influence on their behavior.
  • Constructive criticism tends to focus too heavily on problems.

Instead, Rock recommends "constructive creationism": asking employees how they might develop new, improved habits and how you can help them.

"Once you learn these principles, any other way of communicating is annoying," says Rock. "You can see when you're fighting the brain instead of harnessing its energy.