Web Usability Guide
This guide suggests strategies to improve the overall usability of websites. Many of the guidelines are derived from case studies where users were presented with alternative designs for websites in order to gather information on what features confuse users, affect their ability to find key materials, or fail to meet their expectations. The guide was created for the NEES program and references to a specific page refer to NEES at Oregon State University.
Printable Version (PDF; 390KB)
The guide is organized into three sections:
- Site Design discusses the overall organization of websites,
the selection of elements to be shared on multiple pages, and procedures
for testing and maintaining sites.
- "Dos and Don'ts". General guidelines that apply to the website as a whole.
- Site Organization. Suggestions for how to make the value of your website clear and to maintain credibility.
- Elements Shared by All Site Pages. Why a "common look and feel" is important, and what elements users expect to find on all pages of your website.
- Testing/Maintenance. Suggestions for testing the usability of your site, both before it opens and as it evolves over time.
- Page Design introduces guidelines for how to use fonts, text,
images, and other page elements to ensure that users get the most out of
your webpage content.
- "Dos and Don'ts". General guidelines that apply to all page content
- Page Size. Why you need to be concerned about page size and what you can do to maximize the usability of each page.
- Use of Fonts. The factors that influence font readability, with guidelines for achieving the best legibility possible on computer screens.
- Use of Textual Elements. Guidelines for using text, block text, tables, lists, etc. to improve the readability and usability of your webpages.
- Use of Images. The factors that influence the visibility and usefulness of photographs, diagrams, plots animations, and other types of images.
- Helping Users Find Key Content. Suggestions for how to use visual elements in order to attract users' eyes to ley content.
- Navigation Aids describes the most effective ways to implement
links, menubars, and navigation bars (like the one along the left side of this
- "Dos and Don'ts". General guidelines about the purpose and need for navigation aids throughout your website.
- Effective Use of Links. Guidelines for how and where links should appear in order to be most helpful and most efficient for users.
- Menubars and Menus. Suggestions for how menus should be organized, ordered, and presented to maximize usability.
- Navigation Bars and Other Contextual Aids. Discussion of what kind of assistance users need in maintaining a sense of context and suggestions for how to create effective contextual aids.
Because usability tests continue to reveal new information about how users approach Web materials, this guide should be considered a work-in-progress which will be added to over time.
Questions, comments, and suggestions for improvement are welcome, firstname.lastname@example.org
For additional reading, we recommend the following books and websites.
- Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity, by Jakob Nielsen (New Riders, 1999). Practical design rules to help you make your web pages more readable and usable, based on usability tests of a wide range of websites. Examples clearly illustrate the effects of applying the design rules.
- Web Navigation: Designing the User Experience, by Jennifer Fleming (O'Reilly, 1998). Best introduction to usability engineering techniques and how to apply them in designing your website. Particularly good distinctions of how "navigation design" - which the author uses to refer generally to site organization that facilitates user exploration - can be tailored for "identity sites," "learning sites," and "information sites."
- Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed, by Jakob Nielsen and Marie Tahir (New Riders, 2001). Limited to homepages, but provides clear examples of the features that attract - or repel - users who visit your homepage.
- www.usableweb.com/, Usable Web - Guide to Web Usability Resources. Online collection of resources related to website design, implementation, and testing.
- www.useit.com/, Usable Information Technology. Jakob Nielsen's site, including many of his articles and papers on web usability and user testing.
- www.useit.com/papers/webwriting/, Writing for the Web. Nielsen's pages describing the basic principles for writing webpages.