September 13, 2002

You did what you could
Rebecca Blood's story about a card her niece made for firefighters after September 11 is very touching. She should be proud of her niece.

"I watched as she drew it. First to go up were the buildings, then the airplane, then the two people jumping, holding hands. It is an overwhelming image, so I am not surprised that it is a fundamental part of all of this for her, but it is disturbing to see it reflected in an 8-year old's art."

September 11, 2002

Unfinished Work - Freedom Itself is Under Attack

The Gettysburg Address
"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."
- Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863

How will you help fight terrorism and defend freedom?

"On September the 11th, enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country. Americans have known wars -- but for the past 136 years, they have been wars on foreign soil, except for one Sunday in 1941. Americans have known the casualties of war -- but not at the center of a great city on a peaceful morning. Americans have known surprise attacks -- but never before on thousands of civilians. All of this was brought upon us in a single day -- and night fell on a different world, a world where freedom itself is under attack. ...

"After all that has just passed -- all the lives taken, and all the possibilities and hopes that died with them -- it is natural to wonder if America's future is one of fear. Some speak of an age of terror. I know there are struggles ahead, and dangers to face. But this country will define our times, not be defined by them. As long as the United States of America is determined and strong, this will not be an age of terror; this will be an age of liberty, here and across the world."
- George W. Bush, President of the United States of America, September 20, 2001

God Bless America

September 10, 2002

Should corporate logos be home links?
Recently on the SIGIA-L list, a discussion broke out on whether or not logos on web sites should be linked to the site's home page. Here's my analysis:

There are a few underlying questions:
  1. Do users expect logos to be linked to the home page rather than just being a graphical logo?
  2. Can a linked logo replace another link labeled "home"?
  3. Does placement of the logo matter (e.g. is top-left better)?
  4. If a logo is a link, where would users expect it to go?
Here are my assumptions when designing or reviewing sites:
  • A purely graphical logo is great, but a linked logo provides some additional functionality at little cost.
  • *I think* most users, *when seeing that a logo is a link*, will expect it to go to the site's home page - there are few other logical places for it to go. (related to question 4)
  • I've seen some users click on logos, but most will choose a "home" link first when looking to go "home." (related to questions 1 & 2) Therefore...
  • You need to have an explicit "home" link - a logo isn't explicit enough. (related to question 2)
  • Placement always matters - but if you think of the logo-link as a supplementary link to the "home" link, then it's not that critical from a navigation point of view - it's likely more important from a branding and context point of view. (related to question 3)
Research into this would be great, but frankly I don't *need* research on this issue. In my opinion, there's almost no risk in making a logo a link - risk enters the equation when people try to eliminate a "home" link (in main navigation) which I think is patently a Bad Idea. Logos don't look like main/global navigation -- they look like branding. Use them for navigation too as a "bonus" -- Good Idea. It was also mentioned that logos are generally nice, large targets to click on -- Fitt's Law tells us this is a Good Thing.

Some related research:
Examining User Expectations for the Location of Common E-Commerce Web Objects
(If you agree that most site's put their logo top-left, then you can draw the conclusion that most users expect logos to be links home.)

September 09, 2002

The trouble with usability guidelines
Jared Spool has a new article that questions the value of guidelines called "Evolution Trumps Usability Guidelines."

Jared is controversial (as ever), but as usual there is some truth to what he's saying. I'm not willing to chuck all guidelines out the window, but I'll add my opinions to what Jared has already stated. Let me state up front that I maintain and promote use of a set of guidelines in my day to day work, so I have some experience with guidelines. I've also used guidelines and "style guides" as coaches at times when looking for advice on how to tackle certain design issues.

Problems with guidelines:

  1. Many guidelines aren't based on research. The National Cancer Institute's Research-Based Web Design & Usability Guidelines are an attempt to bring more credibility to guidelines.
  2. Compliance with guidelines can be hard to measure if they are vague or poorly written
    E.g., "Ensure descriptive terms or pictures are used: Use clear and informative labels to describe products on-line" (from Serco's Ecommerce Guidelines)
  3. Many guidelines don't really provide much value
    E.g., "Every Web page should contain at least one link." (from the Yale Web Style Guide) How many people read this guideline and said "Duh!"? Do you think it matters what that one link is?
  4. Guidelines can get outdated.
    E.g., Sun's Writing for the Web Style Guide was authored by Jakob Nielsen who hasn't been at Sun for a number of years. The style guide doesn't look like it's been updated since at least 1998.
  5. Guidelines by definition generalize about design - without regard to differences in audiences, tasks, work environments or other specifics that should play a major factor in designing usable applications. Guidelines make lots of assumptions and don't necessarily tell you what assumptions were made.
    E.g., "International users: Remember that you are designing for the World Wide Web. Your readers could be the people down the street, or people in Australia or Poland." (from the Yale Web Style Guide) clearly not considering intranets, extranets, or other web applications where you may really know the limits of your audience's reach.
  6. Guidelines aren't a recipe for success -- even if you can comply with every guideline, your application might not be very usable. They aren't a replacement for a good User-Centered Design (UCD) process.
  7. Guidelines are not comprehensive -- they don't cover all or even most design scenarios.
  8. Different sets of guidelines may contradict each other.
    E.g., Spool and Nielsen regulary go toe-to-toe on the topic of web search.
  9. Guidelines can be hard to use. A good set of web guidelines generally is pretty large and can't be easily absorbed by designers -- especially novice designers.
    E.g. Nielsen Norman Group has published 592 different web usability guidelines in five separate reports.
  10. It seems some people think guidelines are a replacement for the methods in UCD and try to short-cut the design process by using them instead of usability testing, prototyping, etc. This makes guidelines dangerous -- people who don't know how or when to use them will mis-use them. By following guidelines blindly, you can shoot your design in the foot. (Yes, of course designs have feet - how else do you explain "walk-throughs?")

There are also some things that are good about guidelines -- but I'll cover that topic in another post.

Let me know what you think -- email: Lyle_Kantrovich at Bigfoot dot com

September 08, 2002

The Pursuit of Simplicity
Luke Wroblewski of NCSA has some good insights on what makes designing for simplicity difficult.

"Ultimately it’s the pursuit of simplicity that’s your best teacher. When you consistently work toward a simpler solution, you pick up a lot of valuable lessons along the way: what works and what doesn’t, what is necessary and what is interference."

Related posts:
- Bloatware: Good or Evil?
- User centered design sells products

Note: article linked fixed April, 2008