Fundamental Guidelines for Web Usability

A few weeks ago I attended a one day workshop ‘Fundamental Guidelines for Web Usability’. The course consisted of a workbook with examples of websites with successful and not so successful web designs. The more interesting (and fun) portion were their eye tracking videos of actual users with different levels of web experience running through exercises.
Below are some of the things discussed…

General Info

More and more reliance on search engines

Users hit an actual web url if they are loyal to that website/brand or are return shoppers
Users are more likely to hit your website/pages via search query results

What is on your internal pages (not home page), that covers the query the user used from the search engine
How easy is it to find the info they were looking for once they landed on the internal page

What makes a site trust worthy to a user?

Contact Info provided even though most of them won’t actually call the # provides credibility
A polished look makes users ‘trust’ that the information presented is true and valid (doesn’t look like someone made the website at home on their couch)
Users believe that a website with reviews for their products (i.e. Apple) gives the product credibility (where you see a mix of ratings).

Good Flow

You can’t figure out good flow unless you research why someone wants to come to your site and how they want to use it
You need to know the tasks the user is going to your site for to be able to design
Balance your desires for the flow you want them to go into to what they actually want to do.

For example, some sites deliberately force a user into a certain flow – why?

Make it easier/cheaper from a design/technical perspective
They don’t want the user to use a specific feature (i.e. let’s say you could pay debit or credit card and debit costs them more they’ll make it harder to use the debit feature)

Example of a site that successfully answered the question ‘what do users want next?’
WebMD – Provide users with everything they need to know (other website links, phone numbers)

Make tasks that are important to the user part of the process:

Airline A has a 6 step process flow for purchasing a flight
-search for your flight
-select your flight
-confirm your flight
-summary of flight
-pick your seats in advance
-pay for your flight

Airline B does not have the same flow. The seat selection is not part of the process. The user must find a link to ‘seat map’ and select it. If they miss it or forget that the feature is available they cannot go back and select once the itinerary has been confirmed

When to use current web design standards and when to be innovative and different

A portion of our workshop was to discuss when you should try to introduce new user behaviour and when you should not. Below are some examples:

Search feature – users have been trained to expect to see it in the upper right hand corner. Testing done on websites that put that feature in other locations (footer area, left nav) showed that users did not find it as quickly. Their first destination was to the right hand corner.

Shopping cart feature – users understand the shopping cart feature. They know how to add and remove items. Websites that decided to be different and not add a ‘remove item’ link caused user flow issues. The users did not figure out that to remove an item they had to ‘zero’ out the quantity.

Scrolling – don’t add information within a page that put scrolling bars in the middle of it.

Use consistent layout/page design across your site. If you provide the same information from page to page, it should look the same and be located in the same spot.

Left navigation – this should be treated as ‘secondary information’. The main menu is where your high profile items should be

When to be innovative and different
iPads, eReaders – there is an opportunity to introduce new standards. Users will learn it and it will become the standard

Videos and Exercises

One of the interesting exercises we did in the workshop was to be given a list of online headlines from different sites that would lead to a full article. We had to decipher the headline and rate from 1-5 how sure we were about what the article was about.

1= I have no idea
2= I have a faint guess
3= I have some idea
4= I’m pretty sure I know
5= I know exactly what the article is about


Last Tango in Detroit? (business magazine site)
Set Bugs Free! (technology blog)
24 lucky number for Sutherland with $40m deal (newspaper site)
Ancient sloth bones unearthed in Everglades (Yahoo homepage)

(Answers at the end of the blog)


One of the videos shown to us was a user who was taken to the Pixar page for The Incredibles. Her task was to view the movie trailer.

The test subject was unsuccessful in playing the movie but not because she wasn’t experienced using the web.

Reasons she was unsuccessful:
Looking for a play button that didn’t exist
Not familiar with having to select a resolution to view the trailer
No indication that the Small-Medium-Large text are actually links

What happened?
This user saw one clickable item that she thought might lead to viewing the movie ‘QuickTime5’.
She downloaded it and then was back to the same problem. She spent a considerable amount of time hitting other websites that always led her back to this page. She eventually gave up.

Another video was of a woman showing an instructor her favourite website ‘Zappos’. Zappos is an amazing website for shoeaholics. Not only do they sell brand name/designer shoes at a discount but they have the best customer service ever. Sadly, Zappos’ Canadian site was shutdown this year.

The point to this video was to show a loyal brand user who encounters small problems on the site. This woman walked through her account and showed all of her previous purchases. There were a number of times that when she clicked on a link to view the shoe she had purchased she got an error message that there seemed to be a problem finding that shoe.
The interesting thing about it was that she just commented something like ‘oh well that’s odd…oh well I’ll show you some other shoes I got…I must have done something wrong.’
Her loyalty to that brand superseded any problems she may have had on the site. Instead of saying this site is messed up, she excused it by saying it was her mistake.

Users forgive errors/mistakes on websites and will come back when they are loyal to a brand (but it doesn’t mean the site shouldn’t be fixed).

Exercise answers:

1.It’s about the possibility of General Motors going bust
2.About Bugs Bunny
3.It’s about Kiefer Sutherland and his deal for his tv show 24
4.It’s about ancient sloth bones unearthed in Everglades

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