|The iorg.com Newsletter - March 2004
Defining a Basic Unit of Web
researchers have made the case for a proactive approach to web site
design as opposed to relying strictly on reactive testing approaches.
Rolf Molich, Founder of DialogDesign and author of the CUE studies;
Alan Cooper and Robert Reimann - authors of About Face 2.0: The
Essentials of Interaction Design; and Doug Van Duyne, James
Jason Hong - authors of Design of
Sites -- have identified three
elements among them as important:
- A basic unit which Cooper calls 'principles' and Molich
- A collection of design solutions which Cooper and van Duyne
call 'patterns' and Molich calls 'interface building blocks,'
- Finally what Molich calls 'contextual inquiry.'
The least well described of
these is the first, the basic unit. This
newsletter offers a formal definition of that basic unit. A formal
definition is required to provide a descriptive basis for research into
the two higher-level elements of proactive design. It also has value on
its own for creating and managing web sites. The basic unit here is
called a Web Site
A Web Site Practice refers to a specifically defined, observable trait
of a web site. A practice describes an element or convention employed
on the web site that affects the visitors' perception of the web site
in terms of:
To be useful the definition of
practices requires a formal construction. Practice definitions have
five requirements: credibility,
structure, openness, specificity, and perspective.
is a requirement that normally would not apply to a purely descriptive
element. Any element with common agreement could be included. However,
web site practices have a context that is more specific than general
description. Web site practices affect visitor experience, and,
as we shall discuss more fully in the requirement for perspective,
practices carry an explicit recommendation in the way they are worded.
Therefore, a practice needs supporting evidence that it does affect the
visitor experience and whether that effect is positive or negative.
Initially this support comes from credible sources such as:
professional and academic research, professional standards bodies, and
case studies. Over time, they are molded by testing experience with the
web site's audiences. Practices need to be based on objective
support rather than opinion.
makes practices easier to scan, understand and use. The structure of a
practice consists of two parts: a name and a set of specific
attributes. The name should be descriptive and short, two to four
words. For example, PAGE TITLES. The attributes under the name provide
the detailed description of the practice and are listed individually.
For example, the attributes for page titles include:
- Does every page have a clearly identified title?
- Is page title placement consistent throughout the site?
- Is page title format consistent throughout the site?
- Are page titles six words or less in length?
- Do all page titles match their content?
attributes to be added, deleted, or modified based on future
experience. This means the structure does not pre-specify a set number
of attributes for a practice, or for that matter a set number of
practices for a practice category. If summary values are needed for
comparative reasons, giving each attribute a value of one, and
normalizing the result to ten at the practice level, will allow this
comparison. Normalizing the data at the higher levels allows comparison
of practice categories without using a subjective scoring system or
creating an artificial requirement for an equal number of attributes
for each practice.
in defining attributes is critical, since the attributes provide the
definition of the practice. Two tests can help create attributes that
are specific. The first is the: “What
does it LOOK like?” test. Each attribute must be defined in a
way that it can be seen in concrete form on the web site. The second is
the: “Yes or No”
test. Individuals looking at the attribute should be able to look at a
web site and agree whether that attribute exists or not with a simple
yes or no. It should not require an opinion, interpretation or graded
refers to the wording of the attribute. The perspective needs to be
consistent for all the attributes in all the categories. The two
important parameters of a practice perspective are whether the
attributes will be in the form of a statement or of a question. The
second is whether the answer will be positive or negative. To some
extent the use of the practices determines the perspective. For
example, if the practices are going to be used to evaluate a site
against standard practices or as a checklist, a question format with
the desired state being a positive response is the more natural model.
If the practices are to be used to communicate standards to be followed
by the organization, then an imperative statement format may be more
appropriate, and inconsistency of the positive versus negative is less
complement the other proactive approaches in four ways:
- They provide the detail to more accurately and compactly
describe attributes of Web Site Patterns
- They help identify productive targets for contextual inquiry
- They provide the detail required to control for variables
when testing specific visitor experience hypotheses
- They provide a framework for capturing test results so they
are not lost in future designs.
can be used for a number of pragmatic purposes including:
For use in proactive design or in audits of existing sites
To communicate with designers and developers
To maintain consistent behavior across independently managed sub-sites
To control variables between test sites or states
To maintain descriptions of previous site practices and results
Please feel free to forward this
newsletter to a friend or colleague who might be interested.