Clicks & Notes

18 May 2005

Designing intersection flows

GUUUI - Designing intersection flows

There is a potential problem if forms are involved and users have to choose between this and that in order to proceed. We should be alert if two or more forms are present on the same page, i.e. if there are two or more sets of input fields with each their submit button - especially if they are placed close to each other and if they work in a similar way.

There seems to be two ways to eliminate intersection problems. If possible, get rid of options which aren’t mission critical. If this isn’t possible, combine the options into one clear dialogue.

⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 11:23 pm

Calls to action

grokdotcom – So What Exactly is a Call to Action?

The most obvious Calls to Action are ones that say “Add to Shopping Cart” or “Buy Now” or “Subscribe.” A straight-forward “do this.” At the most basic level, they tell the visitor what she can accomplish on that page, and encourage her forward in the conversion process. When Calls to Action like these are paired with Point of Action assurances ("We Value Your Privacy,” “You can always remove the item later"), you motivate action and build confidence.

There are the Calls to Action that are meant to be part of the information-gathering process of the buying decision. You might offer these as Calls to Action: “Next” or “Click here to see alternate views” or “Read what our customers have to say about the Turbo 915.” It helps to pair this sort of Call to Action with an emotionally appealing benefit

Embedded links are less obvious Calls to Action, but when they look the way folks expect a text link to look, and when they intuitively imply where they go, they certainly can function as a Call to Action. These are the Calls to Action that will help you meet the various needs of all the different personality types who come to your site.

⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 11:20 pm

10 May 2005

Overview of Web Application Solutions

Functioning Form - Web Application Solutions: A Designer’s Guide

Web Application Solutions is a guide that helps designers, product managers, and business owners evaluate some of the most popular Web application presentation layer solutions available today. We compare each solution through consistent criteria (deployment & reach, user interactions, processing, interface components & customization, back-end integration, future proofing, staffing & cost, unique features) and provide an overview, set of examples, and references for each.

  • Types of Web Applications:
    • Thin Client
      • uses web browser for security, state management, and script execution
      • most data processing and storage occurs on a remote server
    • Rich Internet Application (RIA)
      • enables richer locally processed user interactions, such as fluid animation, multimedia content, and real-time validation
      • also enables advanced remote messaging
    • Rich Client (smart client, desktop client)
      • a web-connected application that does not run within the browser, and can be delivered as compiled code
  • Web Application Technologies:
    • (X)HTML
    • DHTML (HTML + JavaScript + CSS)
      • DHTML with Remote Scripting via iFrame
      • AJAX (DHTML with XMLHttpRequest
    • Flash (version 6 or higher)
      • Flash with Flex or Laszlo Presentation Server
    • Java Applets
    • Active X
    • Java Web Start
    • Windows Smart Clients

See also: Functioning Form - Web Application Continuums

Many Web Application technologies are an attempt to bridge the gap between Thin (browser-based) and Thick (desktop-based) clients. As a result, it’s useful to consider where they fall on a continuum between these two deployment and design options.

⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 11:36 pm

Representing Data in Wireframes – Representing Data in Wireframes (PDF, 159 kb)

A poster from the ASIS&T 2005 Information Architecture Summit, outlining the different kinds of sample data you can use in wireframes:

  • actual – real data; provides most accurate view of how information will appear; may also be distracting, particulalry if the data changes and the wireframe does not
  • dummy – made-up data that looks real; best for addresses or other variables that are predictable or follow a specific format
  • labeled – uses the variable name, with added information such as field length; should include notes on business rules, provide examples
  • symbolic – field length and data type are illustrated through repeated characters (e.g. “9″, “X"); best used for numbers, currency, or dates
  • lipsum – fake Latin or Greek text, used as a placeholder; consider rendering lipsum in grey in your wireframe, and superimposing a description of the actual content

(via Column Two and UXCentric)

⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 10:57 pm

Designing Long Web Forms

Usability News - Caroline’s Corner - Long Forms: Scroll or Tab?

  • basic rule of thumb: one form = one page
  • if that’s not feasible: one topic = one page
  • scrolling is permissible – ideally, keep it within two screens (this will also fit nicely on letter-size paper if the user wants to print the form)
  • it’s better to put form fields in a single column than in two
⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 10:37 pm

19 April 2005

Technical Difficulties

Apologies once again for the lack of posts over the last several days. I’ve been having some ISP trouble, which will take a few more days (so I’m told) to resolve.

With any luck, there’ll be new content up here sometime early next week.

⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 10:24 pm

11 April 2005

Collage As Interface

In response to my previous post, a friend sent me this link:

Cultronix - The Conceptual Space of Collage

Collage is a critical paradigm of the information age because it opens the range of possibilities through which we interpret information artifacts. Cut and paste enables semiotic construction that simultaneously leverages and detourns the means of production embodied by particular media elements. The recombination of genetic codes of meaning creates hybrid forms. Through these cross-currents, culture, and even knowledge, evolve.

I got to thinking about a few online news sites that rely heavily on a collage effect to transmit many news items in a visual way:

  • Yahoo! Buzz Images and News – splays out a bunch of photos for you; mouse over them to get the textual summary
  • 10 x 10 – an array of 100 keywords and 100 pictures
  • newsmap – no pictures, but relies on size and placement of textual elements to convey importance or magnitude of coverage for a particular news item

Are we going to rely more on interfaces like this to cope with information overload? When are we going to get RSS aggregators that look this?

⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 11:24 pm

08 April 2005

Moving beyond the page metaphor on the web

Atomiq - Beyond the Page and Atomiq - Beyond the Page (the return)

  • the “page” currently functions as the basic presentation and organizational unit – both for people browsing the web, and for people who produce content for the web
  • however, new trends on the web are challenging and disrupting the page metaphor:
    • Rich Internet Applications (RIA) – including those using Flash, Ajax, and Java
    • RSS / Atom / XML content – can be mixed/spliced with other content
    • “blurred boundaries” – between the desktop and the web, and between other devices that can share web content
  • current IA tools, such as site maps and wireframes, are inadequate for modelling the new breed of websites/content
  • new IA tools:
  • a new website, will be covering issues pertaining to IA for RIAs (no content there at the moment)
  • see also: IAlog - RIAs and the death of the page (rumors greatly exaggerated)

Bloug - RIA and Log Analysis

  • moving beyond the page metaphor may also pose a difficulty for web analytics – how do we measure these new sites?
    • Flash has user event capture functionality
    • Ajax still makes use of http request, which are logged by the server
  • tracking inside these interfaces requires more tagging of content
  • the potential exists to capture even more information than what is available with convential log files, such as data on mouse gestures and movements
⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 1:49 pm

07 April 2005

Doing a Content Inventory

alt tags - The Content Inventory: Roadmap to a Succesful CMS Implementation

  • when a company is setting up a content management system, there’s a tendency to focus too much on the technology and design of the CMS, and not enough on the content itself
  • inevitably, when it comes time to populate the CMS, the company runs into trouble – hence the need for a content inventory
  • things to list in your content inventory:
    • all content on the current website
    • content that is to be migrated to the new site
    • web-based applications or transactional systems to be integrated with the new website
  • information to capture for each piece of content:
    • description
    • content owner
    • content type
    • format
    • location
    • update frequency
    • status
    • general notes

(via Column Two)

Here are some additional resources on how to do a content inventory:

The following are examples that you can look at or download:

Update: See also Bloug - Applications to Aid in Content Inventories?, for ideas and pointers to tools for performing content inventories in large, distributed enterprise environments.

⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 11:40 am

05 April 2005

Working Memory and (So-Called) Magic Numbers

Spotted this quick news release via kottke (a while back now – this blog post has been sitting in my “Drafts” folder for a couple weeks):

EurekAlert! - How much can your mind keep track of?

  • new research has shown that, when someone is trying to solve a new problem or do an unfamiliar task, the number of individual variables that they can handle is relatively small; four variables are difficult, while five are nearly impossible
  • when problems are more familiar, people are able to break a larger number of variables into more manageable chunks, treating several variables as a single chunk

Which, of course reminded me of this (in)famous article:

The Psychological Review - The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information by George A. Miller (1956, vol. 63, pp. 81-97)

Everybody knows that there is a finite span of immediate memory and that for a lot of different kinds of test materials this span is about seven items in length. I have just shown you that there is a span of absolute judgment that can distinguish about seven categories and that there is a span of attention that will encompass about six objects at a glance.

Which has since been repudiated in its applicability to interface design:

Internetworking - Three Numbers That (Should) Have Nothing To Do With User Interface Design

(E)ven when it is cited correctly, Miller’s work is discussed as if the scientific understanding of short-term memory had not advanced at all in the last half century… More contemporary experiments show that an individual’s capacity for short-term remembering depends heavily on the nature of what is being remembered.

At best, Miller’s 7 ± 2 figure applies to immediate serial recall for a sequence of familiar, easy-to-pronounce, unrelated, verbal stimuli presented auditorily with no distracting sounds within earshot.

Net Return - Seven, plus or minus two. What’s the relevance for web design? (PDF, 90 kb)

  • it is information scent, and not a user’s ability to remember a list of items, that determines their success in using a navigation structure that presents a large number of links
  • information scent arises from wording used in labels and links that clearly conveys to the user what sort of information can be found if they click link

See also:

Also picking up on the news release from EurekAlert!:

beyond bullets - 7 x 20 = Overload

Many people justify 7 bullet points per slide by citing the George Miller article, but what’s always missing in the arithmetic is the total number of bullet points across all of the slides; e.g., 7 bullets per slide times 20 slides equals 140 bullet points.

In turn, beyond bullets links to these two items:

⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 10:30 pm

27 March 2005

Enterprise IT News

A trio of press releases…

Forrester Research - Top IT Priorities For European Enterprises In 2005

  • Infrastructure consolidation: Almost two-thirds of European enterprises plan to prioritize efforts to consolidate existing IT infrastructure — a quarter of them consider it a top priority for 2005.
  • Security and business continuity: Nearly 60% of European firms rank the upgrade of their security systems as a high priority; 48% of them intend to renew existing disaster recovery capabilities.
  • Packaged applications: Forty-nine percent of European enterprises place the deployment or upgrade of a major application software package as a top IT priority in 2005.
  • PC refresh: Forty-eight percent of European enterprises will replace or upgrade their existing PCs.

Forrester Research - A Dashboard For IT Management

New research from Forrester points to a convergence of disciplines that will result in an integrated IT management (IIM) dashboard, allowing IT managers to reduce IT budgets by as much as 30 percent while realizing value increases of 10 to 15 percent in the first year.

Other benefits include:

  • A dashboard with requests, priorities, resource allocation, schedules, and completed activities.
  • Centralized IT work requests for a true sense of demands against IT resources.
  • Enterprisewide views that permit cross-enterprise resource allocation.
  • A business-level view of concurrent and conflicting IT priorities.
  • High-level analysis and reporting, with drill-downs into specific metrics.

Forrester Research - Top Five Challenges For Enterprise IT Infrastructure Managers – And How To Resolve Them

  • the top five challenges are:
    • Consistent End-To-End Application And Service Performance Guarantees
    • Unplanned Infrastructure Changes Resulting In Incidents And Downtime
    • Unanticipated Infrastructure Effects From Consolidation And New Application Projects
    • Misconfiguration Of Network Objects
    • Wide Area Network Performance

Update: Another press release by Forrester, dating from last fall:

Forrester Research - The Five Top Measurable Metrics IT Management Should Focus On

  1. Alignment with business strategy. This should be the No. 1 metric that IT management uses to measure itself. Failure in alignment will almost certainly result in an IT organization that is viewed at best as a cost center to be managed.
  2. Stewardship of the IT budget. This is the second critical metric. While measuring actual results versus planned results is a sold metric, the ratio of IT budget spent on maintaining the status quo versus spending on new initiatives is a more powerful financial measure.
  3. User/customer satisfaction. This is a key element since IT essentially exists to serve its users. Measuring their satisfaction needs to be part of any IT management systems. We recommend an index that comprises survey results, interviews, and focus groups.
  4. An operational stability index. This should be calculated from three component metrics – availability, responsiveness, and security related outages.
  5. Future orientation. Long-term success of IT is based on the ability to attract, retain, and motivate skilled IT employees. Consequently, a metric that focuses on the human capital dimension of IT needs to be part of the measurement set.

See also:

InformationWeek Weblog - Do businesses want IT staffs to light a spark—or just keep the lights on?

A.T. Kearney released a report Wednesday showing that 30% of executives believe 20% or more of their companies’ annual IT budget is wasted, and is focused more on maintenance rather than growth initiatives.

⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 2:06 pm

20 March 2005

More Email Tips

HBS Working Knowledge - Tips for Mastering E-mail Overload

Lengthy checklist of tips, including several ways for you to make the email that you send to other people more clear and effective.

Standout bits:

  • “Use a subject line to summarize, not describe” – put another way, the subject line should be content, and not metadata
  • “Give your reader full context at the start of your message” – don’t make the reader hunt through a thread of replies to figure out what you’re talking about
  • “When you copy lots of people (a heinous practices that should be used sparingly), mark out why each person should care” – preface the message with action items for each recipient
  • “Separate topics into separate e-mails… up to a point” – important when some topics can be responded to right away, and others cannot; also good for separate the controversial from the mundane; on the other hand, don’t overload someone with a bunch of tiny messages

See also this previous post: Managing Email

Update 22 March 2005: A few related blog posts…

Slacker Manager - Subject line tricks and Slacker Manager - Subject line tricks redux

  • suggestions for useful abbreviations that you can include in the subject lines of your emails

Fast Company - Intel’s Got (Too Much) Mail

  • an article dating from 2001, which notes:

    Employees of the semiconductor giant collectively average 3 million emails a day… with some people racking up as many as 300 messages in one 24-hour period.

  • includes a list of Intel’s “10 Commandments of Email”
⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 11:49 am

PowerPoint and the First Five Slides

beyond bullets - The First Five Slides

  • Cliff Atkinson writes the following about giving presentations:

    If you don’t fully engage your audience within the first five slides of your presentation, you might as well pack up your projector and go home. No matter what your topic, every audience has a set of questions they are silently asking, and it’s up to you to answer them quickly or risk losing the privilege of their attention.

  • rather than being lists of bullets points, the slides should form the foundation for an engaging and persuasive story
  • see also: beyond bullets - The 5-Minute Storyboard for a storyboard template for PowerPoint
⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 10:14 am

16 March 2005

Sample Character Traits for Personas

Anecdote - Character traits

  • features a poster-size (PDF, 352 kb) laundry list of adjectives (e.g. “cranky", “flexible", “nervous", “thoughtful") that you can use to describe the people in personas that you construct
  • (via Column Two)

See also these previous posts on persona construction:

⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 10:03 pm

CSS Layout Links

CommunityMX - Creating Liquid Faux Columns

  • creating liquid equal-height columns
  • (via mezzoblue)

Stopdesign - Liquid Bleach

  • offers these three pointers for creating liquid layouts:
    • double-div columns
    • use fixed-width gutters
    • avoid fixed-width columns
  • (also via mezzoblue)

Anne’s Weblog about Markup & Style - Super simple clearing floats

joshuaink - A simple introduction to 3 column layouts

  • introductory HOWTO with downloadable samples
  • (via - CSS tips for coders: The only layout rule you need to know

  • float vs. absolute positioning
  • (also via
⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 9:05 pm

General Design Links

Before & After

  • a graphic design magazine that’s currently offering two interesting articles as PDFs for free to non-subscribers:
    • “How to Find the Perfect Color” – deriving a colour palette from a photograph
    • “Design Easy Cover Patterns” – using repeating shapes
  • (via Seth’s Blog)


  • an “interactive visual font search system” for when you don’t know what kind of font you’re looking for
  • (via xBlog)

Typographica - Our Favorite Fonts of 2004

  • it doesn’t appear that any of these fonts are free, but they are nice to look at
  • (via Mezzoblue)

FontEditor BitfontMaker


  • a weblog with pointers to free fonts online
  • (via LifeHacker, as are the remaining links in this post)

Designers Toolbox

  • references and resources for online and print designers

Color Schemer

  • choose a colour by RGB or hex value, and get a palette of complementary colours

Red Alt - I Like Your Colors

  • type in the URL of a webpage you like, and get a list of hex codes for the colours used on the page - Color Blender

  • pick two different colours and get a list of up to ten different intermediary colours

Lifehacker - Free stock photography

  • a list of links to websites offering free stock photography
⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 8:24 pm

Been Busy

Apologies to the few folks who’ve been visiting here regularly over the last two weeks and finding nothing new. I’ve been busy taking some classes and doing some job hunting.

I hope to have some new material up on the blog sometime tonight.

⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 12:28 pm

02 March 2005

Steps in Creating Quality Personas

Avenue A / Razorfish - Creating Quality Personas: Understanding the Levers that Drive User Behavior (PDF, 778 kb)

The persona is a design tool that enforces discipline in the site development process. Because there are many ways to define a user and his or her complex set of motivations, creating a precise persona with a detailed personality, background and behavior helps to focus the design team on meeting the distinct goals and needs of a particular user type. In addition, defining and designing for a set of specific personas helps to avoid the common practice of trying to design for all users.

  • three basic steps in the persona development process:
    • identify target research segments – review a company’s existing customer segments and supporting market research
    • conduct qualitative research with real people – techniques can include ethnographic observation and interviews, diaries, etc.
    • analyze the data and develop the personas – look for attitudinal patterns, contexts, behaviors
  • scope considerations for persona development:
    • size and diversity of the customer base
    • geographic reach
    • depth of behavioral frameworks – deeper insights require multiple data collection methods and more intensive analysis
    • desire to quantify qualitative results – personas can be “tested” through quanitative methods such as surveying

(Via GUUUI.)

See also this previous post: Creating Personas

⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 11:56 pm

Usability, IA, and Analytics - Prioritize Usability Testing and Web Analytics

  • usability testing and web analytics have a common goal – measuring a site’s ability to drive user conversions – but they approach this differently:

    Web analytics measure visitor intent and persuasive momentum, as well as the site’s ability to move visitors through a conversion scenario.

    Usability examines the site’s interface and process barriers that keep visitors from accomplishing a conversion task.

  • using analytics allows you to track actual actions taken on the site, in real time, with a very large sample group
  • usability testing, with individual respondents, provides insight into what happens in particular instances; however, artificial nature of the testing environment doesn’t necessarily provide an accurate reflection of user engagement
  • on combining the two approaches:

    Generally speaking, use Web analytics to determine where to make site changes and usability tests to determine what to test.

(Via Column Two.)

Update 03 March 2005: One thing that occured to me (and is not – in my mind – explicity stated in the above-noted article) about making use of both web analytics and usability testing when optimizing your site:

  • analytics will tell you where the roadblocks occur on your site; usability testing will tell you why

Hurol Inan - Web Analytics – The Voice of Users in Information Architecture Projects, and Hurol Inan - Information Architecture through Web Analytics

  • both articles discuss incorporating web analytics into the information architecture process
  • areas examined by a web analyst include:
    • Website usage by content category
    • Popular and not-so-popular elements of each content category
    • Affinity between content categories
    • Major tasks and possible frustration points
    • On-site search usage, including where users revert to searching

Hurol Inan - Information Architecture – The Key to HTML Email Optimization

  • designing an HTML email is also a form of information architecture
  • regarding email click-to-open rates:

    A great majority of users only click on a single link – with the average number of clicks by a clicking user ranging anywhere from 1.2 to 1.8

  • applying IA principles to email can improve this rate dramatically – in one case:

    We saw a 50% improvement on the click-to-open rate and a four-fold increase on clicks on feature content.

(Preceding three links via iaSlash.)

See also this previous post: Web Analytics and Continual Site Optimization

⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 11:23 pm

27 February 2005

Free Windows Software

These lists all provide links to good free software for Windows…

Tech Support Alert - The 46 Best-ever Freeware Utilities

Last updated February 21, 2005: 17 items updated, 11 additions, 6 deletions. In this latest update there are actually 61 utilities but this report will still be called now and forever “The Best-ever 46 Freeware Utilities.”

Lifehacker - Essential Windows freebies

  • software for “average” users, including more media- and communication-oriented software - 10 Open Source programs you should have

  • a more “geek"-oriented list

The Portable Freeware Collection

This site is dedicated to the collection and cataloguing of freeware that can be extracted to any directory and run independently without prior installation. These can be carried around on a memory stick / USB flash drive, or copied / migrated from PC to PC via simple copying of files. Hence the term portable freeware.

The Road Warriors Guide - What’s On My Pen Drive

If you spend any amount of time on the road in the IT industry, you’ll undoubtedly have equipped yourself with a software “toolkit” that you use on a regular basis. Those readers of a “certain age” will recall fond memories of carrying a box of floppies loaded with diagnostic and test software that would get hauled out at every site.


a guide to very small software for your PC. Virtually all of the programs listed here are free of charge and for use under Windows (Palm and OS X pages also exist)

AnandTech - Freeware replacements for commonly warez’ed programs

there are free replacements for a lot of commercial software that people commonly pirate

Update 28 February 2005: Pricelessware

The Pricelessware list is a compilation of software collected through a yearly vote by the participants of the alt.comp.freeware newsgroup. It is a list of what people have voted as “the best of the best in Freeware".

⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 11:40 pm

26 February 2005

The Mac Mini and Switching from PC to Mac

If I had the extra cash lying around, I’d love to add a Mac Mini to my stable of computers… - Mac Mini – More Than Meets the Eye

  • suggests numerous ways to make use of a Mac Mini, including:
    • 1: As a Portable Depot for Digital Pictures
    • 7: As a Hardware Firewall for Laptops
    • 8: As a Physical Security System, for controlling security CCTV cameras, coordinating alarms, etc.
    • 13: As an iPod Feeding Station

Computerworld - Mac mini to the max – Part 1 and Part 2

I also have a hunch this will be a godsend to IT departments in mixed environments where Macintoshes and Windows-based PCs have to play well together. Why? Because a lot of companies likely have extra keyboards, monitors and computer mice lying around. And since the Mac mini comes with none of those peripherals, it’s perfect for IT folks eyeing Mac upgrades for older models – or thinking about trying a Mac or two in their corporate environment to see how it might work

Working Smart - I Finally Took the Plunge

  • notes on making the transition from PC to Mac
  • (via Lifehacker)

Update 28 February 2005: Personal Technology (Wall Street Journal) - While Switching to Mac Will Improve Security, It Isn’t for Everybody

In general, the best candidates for a switch to the Mac are those who use their computers overwhelmingly for common, mainstream consumer tasks.

⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 11:29 pm

Web Application Development Links - Fight over ‘forms’ clouds future of Net applications

  • factions within the W3C are split between supporting XForms and current standards-based HTML forms; meanwhile there are XAML, Flash MX, and XUL to consider - The Google Wake-Up Call

WebPasties - Guide to Using XMLHttpRequest (with Baby Steps)

The XMLHttpRequest object is a handy dandy JavaScript object that offers a convenient way for webpages to get information from servers without refreshing themselves.

Update: [JPSPAN] - javascript:xmlhttprequest

  • an extensive list of links to references, tutorials, examples, tools, etc.
  • (via kottke)

Computerworld - Common Web Application Vulnerabilities

  • survey of web application vulnerabilities, and ways to mitigate the risks, including those posed by:
    • authentication
    • session security and session IDs
    • SQL injection vulnerabilities
    • Buffer Overflows
    • cross-site scripting (XSS)
⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 9:50 pm

The 3-6-3 Rule for Software ROI

Thinking Faster - Software ROI expectations:

  • the 3-6-3 rule provides suggested timelines/guidelines for designing, building, deploying and receiving benefit from software:

    6 months - start to finish, we want to try to limit any software release that we build to 6 months or less. If the development gets longer, we are apt to miss a technology or business window. We need substantial functionality, but not at the risk of bloatware or delayed releases.

    3 months - how long it should take, start to finish, to deploy our enterprise and workgroup productivity and innovation tools… The faster a customer can implement and deploy a meaningful solution, the easier it will be for them to accept and embrace the solution.

    3 months - how long it should take for the software to pay for itself… We want to build software that will provide a meaningful benefit within three months of the completion of the deployment. No one wants to wait for a return on investment on software any more.

⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 9:20 pm

23 February 2005

Offering Language Choice to Users on Canadian Retail Sites

mezzoblue - It’s a Canadian Thing

Question: the site you’re building requires support for multiple languages. Each needs equal prominence. How do you handle this?

  • Dave Shea observes that websites for large retail stores in Canada typically rely on an opening splash page that does nothing more than ask the user to choose their language (i.e. English or French)
  • however, this page typically does not appear on sites for companies in other industries
  • Shea notes that the choice to use the splash page is politically motivated:

    If you provide an English page with a link to the French equivalent, or vice-versa, you risk alienating a potentially large percentage of your customer base. So by presenting both on equal ground and forcing the consumer to choose, you side-step the issue

  • another use for the opening choice splash page:

    Incidentally, this also used to be a popular trick for retailers to force a choice between US and Canadian currency. By only providing one method of switching between currencies at the very beginning of the visit to the site, the customer would be far less liable to switch to another currency and compare.

The article includes links to the sites for Canadian Tire, Rogers Video, Blockbuster, FutureShop, Air Canada, CIBC, Telus, and HBC. A couple things I noticed about the sites after clicking through:

  • regardless of the presence/absence of an opening “choose English or French” splash page, the sites all allowed the user to change languages from anywhere within the site via global navigation
    • most sites put the language “toggle” link in the top navigation, usually gravitating towards the top-right-hand corner of the page (the exception being Blockbuster, who puts it in the upper-left corner (in tiny type – not so good) next to their logo)
    • the sites that don’t put the link in the top navigation (Air Canada and Telus) put it in among the footer links at the bottom of the page
  • on most sites, switching languages does not interrupt user flow – that is, if you drill down somewhere from the English homepage and then click “French", you wind up on the French version of the exact same page; this, most will agree, is preferable to returning the user back to the homepage in the other language
    • Air Canada is one of those sites that returns the user to the homepage; it’s notable that one of their “toggle” choices is to switch to the U.S. site, so sending the user to U.S. homepage will serve to prevent easy comparisons between Canadian and U.S. prices, as noted above
    • the other exception is Telus – upon clicking the “French” link from anywhere within Telus‘ English site, not only do you go back to the homepage in French, but to a new URL as well
    • of course, Air Canada and Telus are also the two sites who buried their “change language” links at the bottom of the page, so they’re definitely not encouraging users to readily switch back and forth after making an intial selection
⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 4:16 pm

21 February 2005

“Ajax” and the new breed of web applications

adaptive path - ajax: a new approach to web applications

  • “Ajax” (shorthand for “Asynchronous JavaScript + XML") is a way to make web applications more responsive to user interaction
  • traditional web applications rely on communication between a user and a web server via HTTP, which result in a “start-stop-start-stop” type of interaction:
    • user sends a request to the server
    • the server processes the request
    • the server returns a(nother) web page back to the user
    • repeat…
  • an Ajax “engine"– written in JavaScript, and loaded at the start of a user session – can instead act as an intermediary between the user and server:

    Any response to a user action that doesn’t require a trip back to the server — such as simple data validation, editing data in memory, and even some navigation — the engine handles on its own

    If the engine needs something from the server in order to respond — if it’s submitting data for processing, loading additional interface code, or retrieving new data — the engine makes those requests asynchronously, usually using XML, without stalling a user’s interaction with the application.

  • Ajax is not a new technology in and of itself; it incorporates existing web technologies:
    • standards-based presentation using XHTML and CSS;
    • dynamic display and interaction using the Document Object Model;
    • data interchange and manipulation using XML and XSLT;
    • asynchronous data retrieval using XMLHttpRequest;
    • and JavaScript binding everything together.
  • current online applications using Ajax include the various Google products, Flickr and
⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 11:53 pm

Ten ways to improve ecommerce site usability

WebCredible - Ten ways to improve the usability of your ecommerce site

  1. Identify users with their e-mail address rather than a username
  2. Break up the ordering process into bite size chunks
  3. Show users where they are in the ordering process, and how many more steps there are to complete
  4. Don’t make the ordering process harder than it needs to be
  5. Address common user queries that arise during the ordering process, either onscreen (preferable, I think) or via a hyperlink
  6. Highlight required form fields
  7. Make the ordering process flexible – for example, a forced postal code lookup can cause problems for users with unusual or new addresses
  8. Put users’ minds at ease – many users are still concerned about the security of shopping online
  9. Have users confirm their order before buying, then provide confirmation after they buy
    • before they click “OK” or “Cancel", users should be able to see:
      • a summary of their order
      • how much it will cost
      • where it will be delivered to
    • once the user clicks “OK” and the order is succesfully placed, show them:
      • the expected delivery date
      • the order number
      • how to track the order online (if this is possible)
  10. Send a confirmation e-mail after an order has been place

(via InformIT)

⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 10:12 pm

17 February 2005

Managing Email

Some links that I’ve come across in the last while…

43 Folders - Five fast email productivity tips

  • simple and to the point:
    • Shut off auto-check
    • Pick off easy ones – if you can respond right away in one or two lines, do it now
    • Write less – keep it short, quick, and to the point
    • Cheat – use templates and boilerplate responses for common inquiries
    • Be honest – if you know you’re not going to deal with an email, just get rid of it

John Porcaro: mktg@msft - Microsoft’s Email Culture

  • Porcaro talks about the high volumes of email that staff at Microsoft contend with, shares a few of his own email management tricks, including:
    • your inbox is not your to-do list
    • block out time to “process” email
    • don’t use email as your filing system
    • don’t use email as a CMS – put content that needs to be shared in a place accessible to all

NPR - Overcoming E-Mail Overload at Work

  • includes an audio interview with Marilyn Paul, author of It’s Hard To Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys, who offers several tips for dealing with email effectively at work, including:
    • Meet as a team to review e-mail use. Identify what works, what doesn’t, and why.
    • Don’t deliver bad news in an e-mail message.
    • After two rounds of problem-solving on e-mail, pick up the phone.
    • If you can’t answer a request immediately, let the other party know when you can respond, or if you can’t.
  • there’s also an excerpt of Paul’s book available here (PDF, 122 kb)

Good Experience - Managing Incoming E-mail: What Every User Needs to Know (PDF, 317 kb)

Here is how to manage incoming e-mail: Keep the inbox empty.

  • the report (which is 38 pages long) goes on to include:
    • a walkthrough on how to empty your current inbox
    • tips on how to spot spam in your inbox quickly, so that you can delete it right away
    • suggestions for setting up mail filters
    • instructions on setting up filters in Microsoft Outlook

Conversations with Dina - Spam killing Email - why can’t they learn from IM ?

  • Dina talks about using whitelist applications and has a wishlist for a permission-based contact management protocol/structure for email

BBC News - E-mail is the new database

  • obviously a lot of people could use the tips noted in the preceding articles – as the BBC reports:

    Web-based e-mail services like Hotmail, Yahoo!, Gmail and AOL Mail on the Web are becoming databases by default as a growing number of people use them, to store data and photos so they can retrieve them from anywhere.

Update 18 February 2005: Here’s one more… - How the big names tame e-mail

  • Email secrets of the rich and famous include:
    • don’t read it
    • get an assistant
    • use multiple email addresses
    • use a wireless solution, like a Blackberry, to handle email anytime, anywhere
  • (via Brain Food Blog)

Update #2, 18 February 2005: This just in…

43 Folders - Quick tips on processing your email inbox

  • Merlin Mann follows up on his five email productivity tips (see above) with these notes:

    Processing determines as quickly as possible what, if anything, to do with each piece (in ascending order of urgency and importance):

    • delete it
    • archive it
    • defer it for later response
    • generate an action from it
    • respond to it immediately (if it—literally—will take less than 2 minutes or is so Earth-shattering that it just can’t wait)
⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 11:35 pm

16 February 2005

Web Authoring and Design Links

WebCredible - Ten CSS tricks you may not know

  • includes tips on centre-aligning a box element, vertical alignment, and positioning within a container
  • (via

A List Apart - Bulleted Lists: Multi-Layered Fudge

  • using CSS to create two columns of bulleted lists in the flow of the text - JavaScript and Accessibility, Pt. 1.

  • practical and standards-compliant use of JavaScript; first in a three-part series
  • (via

456 Berea Street - Developing With Web Standards: Recommendations and Best Practices

  • good overview of what standards exist, why to use them, and basic authoring tips, with plenty of links to more information
  • (via InfoDesign) - Optimize PDF Files

  • tips on shrinking PDFs for web use
  • (via InformIT)

Accessible Information Solutions - Colour Contrast Analyser

  • “a tool for checking foreground & background colour combinations to determine if they provide good colour visibility”
  • (via Column Two)
⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 10:43 pm

14 February 2005

Creating Personas

User Interface Engineering - Perfecting Your Personas

  • “A persona is a user archetype you can use to help guide decisions about product features, navigation, interactions, and even visual design.”
  • personas are based on ethnographic interviews with real people
  • when creating a persona (usually captured as a 1-2 page document), describe the following:
    • behaviour patterns
    • goals
    • skills
    • attitudes
    • environment
  • adding a few fictional details makes the persona more lifelike
  • things to keep in mind when designing your personas:
    • personas represent behavior patterns, not job descriptions
    • don’t create too many of them – just enough to illustrate key goals and behaviour patterns
    • your marketing and sales targets may not be your design targets
    • each persona should have three or four important goals that help focus the design
    • tasks are not goals; tasks are a means to accomplish goals
    • personas must be specific to the design problem

See also:

And, taking more of a marketing POV:

⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 7:04 pm

Usability Testing Notes

SitePoint - Not The Usual Suspects: How To Recruit Usability Test Participants

  • consider the following when deciding who to recruit:
    • Who was the project designed for?
    • Is there any special equipment, knowledge, or background necessary to appreciate it?
    • How do you want the user to benefit from your site or application?
  • be sure to include people who fit both the current and desired profile of typical site users
  • sampling techniques for finding users:
    • random – entails defining a targeted population of users
    • quota – recruit ‘X’ number of users who meet certain criteria
    • opportunity – “simply position yourself somewhere you are likely to find users who fit your desired criteria, and take your sample from people who are available at the time”
    • snowball – find one or two key people who fit the profile you want and ask them to recommend more
  • (via Column Two)

Good Experience - Four Words to Improve User Research

  • the four words are: “Don’t define tasks beforehand.
  • instead, start by interviewing the user – get an idea of how they relate to and use a product or website; ask them to cite a example of something they’ve done or plan to do
  • then get them to perform the task they just described to you
  • doing it this way means that you won’t be guessing – perhaps incorrectly – how your customers really use the site or product; your tests won’t be skewed toward some hypothetical condition that doesn’t exist in the real world
  • (via GUUUI)

User Interface Engineering - Honing Your Usability Testing Skills: An Interview with Ginny Redish

Some aspects that I find design teams often need help with are:

  • Thinking about the issues – what you want to learn from the usability test
  • Writing good scenarios – that test the web site or product without giving
    away too much
  • Facilitating comfortably – knowing when to talk and when not to, how to
    ask neutral questions, how to keep participants thinking aloud
  • Taking good notes without missing anything critical
  • How to report results so that the right people act on them

My experience over many, many years of that type of usability testing is that you’ll find the major problems with relatively few users (I usually say six to 12 ).

You can use a heuristic evaluation (having one or more experts review the product) to catch major and obvious flaws in a product – if there are any… However, a heuristic evaluation is not an alternative to usability testing. A heuristic evaluation is just a prediction of what users will do. Until you see the real users, you don’t know whether those predictions are right.

⇒ Filed under:  by jen @ 6:19 pm

© Jennifer Vetterli, 2005