October 28, 2003

Usability.gov gets some press, and quietly releases new version of guidelines

The usability team at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) are highlighted in two articles today talking about their web usability guidelines. Government Computer News (GCN) has an article called HHS issues usability guide for site design -- but read on here for the most exciting news for designers and usability practitioners...

First, it's great to see the head of a government agency announcing and promoting use of usability guidelines. This is clearly the result of a great job at promotion by Sanjay and the Usability.gov team, who should be congratulated.

From the foreword by Tommy Thompson, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services:
"Unfortunately, too many federal agencies have developed their websites according to their own needs, not the needs of the citizens they serve. For this and other reasons, the PresidentÂ’s E-government Act indicated that federal IT systems should be citizen-centered. An important part of creating a citizen-centered website is the use of research on how citizens interact with websites. This book, which translates research into practical, easy-to-understand guidelines, helps those in charge of federal websites save time and valuable resources."

The guidelines have been majorly updated

The GCN article points to a new page that has printable PDFs for download, complete with an introduction, forewords, indices and much more. What's strangely not mentioned, yet good to see, is that the article points to a completely revised version of the guidelines when compared to what's currently available from the top of the usability.gov site. (The forewords are both from 2003.) If you compare the PDF versions, the usability.gov site has a page for "printing complete guidelines" which looks old (from 2001), but maps pretty closely to what's available under "guidelines" on the usability.gov site. The old print version is much smaller than the new one (73 pages and 2.6 MB versus 128 pages and 39.2 MB). Also, the old PDF is basically a printout of the web site, while the new version is formatted like a book - much better for printing and using as a hard copy since it has accurate pages numbers, a TOC, indices, etc.

In comparing the content of the new version versus the web site, it's clear the new version contains a lot of new work. There are now 17 sections to the guidelines (versus 14), and a number of old sections have been restructured and renamed. I noticed that the ratings for "relative importance" and "strength of evidence" for each guideline have been updated as well.

So, this all means the guidelines currently on the usability.gov site are outdated, and the NCI team (hopefully) has a major web site update coming. The more current version of their usability guidelines is available as a PDF printable handbook. Go get it!

Finally, I'd agree with usability guru, Ben Schneiderman, who in his foreword says:
"These new NCI Web usability Guidelines carry forward one of the most enduring success stories in user interface design. They continue the noble tradition of thoughtful practitioners who have hacked their way through the unruly design landscape and then distilled their experience into compact and generalizable aphorisms or patterns. Compilations of such guidelines offer newcomers a clearer roadmap to follow, helping them to avoid some of the swamps and potholes. Guidelines serve experienced experts and busy managers by giving them an overview and reminding them of the wide range of issues."

See also:
- Federal Computer Week: Guide released for federal Web design

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