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Frontend Infocentre

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1.
#19037

Accessibility Arguments Revisited

Frontend has recently completed the delivery of the first version (1.1) of the Irish National Disability Authority (NDA) IT Accessibility Guidelines. In the course of our work for the NDA over the last year we’ve talked to a wide variety groups and individuals who have an interest in accessibility and as a result of their input, our approach has shifted a little. Here’s what we found out.

Poskitt, Henry. Frontend Infocentre (2002). Design>Web Design>Accessibility>Usability

2.
#34463

Back To Basics: How Poor Usability Effects Accessibility

In recent user testing with a range of participants including Visually Impaired (VIP) and Blind users we found that the majority of problems were common across all groups. However the effect of poor usability is more severe for users with visual disabilities. Surprisingly all of the issues are very familiar and are easy to fix so we thought we’d revisit some of the basics of accessible web design.

Frontend Infocentre (2009). Articles>Web Design>Accessibility>Usability

3.
#34460

The Benefits of Viewing User Tests

The benefits of user testing have long been established. It is still important however to try and maximise these benefits. One way in which this can be done is by viewing the user test yourself.

Frontend Infocentre (2009). Articles>Usability>Testing>Methods

4.
#19290

Beyond Usability Testing

Usability testing is a powerful tool in identifying problems and issues that users may have with a website or software application. But for all its benefits, traditional testing does not necessarily give a complete picture at how effective a site or application is in terms of meeting business goals.

Farrell, Tom. Frontend Infocentre (2001). Articles>Usability>Testing>Methods

5.
#19320

Colour Me Usable!

Colour is used in interface design for a variety of purposes. Not only can colour convey meaning or highlight content, it is also an important part of corporate identity and branding. Where would the Coca Cola brand be without its distinctive red and white livery? All well and good, but the reality is that the use of colour can cause more problems than it solves. Interface designers must treat colour with caution for a variety of reasons - most importantly the huge variety of ways in which any given colour can be perceived. It is well known that older users and those with colour-deficit vision may have difficulty in perceiving certain colours. Different monitors may be poor at maintaining colours the same across displays, and of course many users are still working on black and white displays. In this environment, poor use of colour may mean that text is hard to read, eyestrain occurs, and users become frustrated. With this in mind, designers should consider the following guidelines relating to the use of colour in interface design.

Gaine, Frank. Frontend Infocentre (2000). Design>Web Design>Accessibility>Color

6.
#19295

The Conversion Rate

Why is usability such an important factor in the success of e-business developments? A key concept in understanding the value of usability is often called the 'conversion rate'. Simply put, it represents the percentage of unique visitors who go on to interact with the site in a pre-defined way. Usually this means make a purchase, but depending on the site in question it could mean registering for more information, placing a bet or opening an account. Conversion rates are usually low. That isn't particularly surprising - they are low in almost any industry, online or offline. What is particularly relevant in the context of usability is the huge benefits that a small change in the rate can offer.

Farrell, Tom. Frontend Infocentre (2001). Design>Web Design>E Commerce

7.
#19309

Designing an Effective Search Facility

Whilst some designers would insist that to even contemplate adding a search engine to a site is to admit some sort of failure of interaction design, most would agree that in certain circumstances some form of search facility can be appropriate. Either way, it is an issue that sooner or later is likely to be addressed by many site developers. It is important to recognise that when we speak of a 'search facility' we are often applying one catch-all name to what is in fact many distinct functions. There is a significant difference, for example, between searching for specific items with specific names (such as books in a bookshop) and looking for any documents that contain certain words or phrases. The former is a targeted, 'hard' search, the latter a much more complex 'soft' process that is likely to place greater demands on the user if they are to be successful. Although in terms of interface design and technology these searches may be similar, for the user they are very different processes.

Frontend Infocentre (2001). Design>Web Design>Search

8.
#19304

Designing For Touch-Screen Kiosks

As with other interactive media, touch-screen kiosks are designed for many different types of uses - from art piece installations to bus timetables and just about everything in between. But the practice of design for such kiosks demonstrates the importance of understanding hardware considerations and restraints before embarking on interface development. There are aspects to touch-screen technology that make their design fundamentally different to that of desktop applications. Most of these differences revolve around the nature of the input or controlling device. Touch screen kiosks are controlled directly by the user's finger whereas desktop applications are controlled remotely by devices like a mouse or keyboard. Users' fingers and hands vary in size and shape unlike a mouse cursor that stays more or less the same size from machine to machine. This is the primary consideration for design. For the purposes of this article we will concentrate on the touch-screen and the users' interaction with the content of the kiosk. Issues as to the design and usability of the kiosk's hardware or casing (such as height and location) will not be addressed. Before the designer can begin to think what the user might want in terms of content there are more basic concerns.

Coveney, Rory. Frontend Infocentre (2001). Design>User Interface

9.
#19291

Download Speeds And Usability

Obviously it isn’t true that download times don’t matter. Presumably the research methods used to arrive at such conclusions are flawed in some way – or alternatively Jared is so keen to convey the importance of other factors than simple speed of download (a noble aim in itself) that he is willing to inaccurately dismiss download speeds as completely irrelevant. Either way, this kind of statement is hardly a good advertisement for the usability industry.

Farrell, Tom. Frontend Infocentre (2001). Design>Web Design>Usability>Bandwidth

10.
#19294

Effective Alt Text

Good alt text can be a useful tool for enhancing the web interface. It provides supporting information, helping users gain an understanding of the structure web pages and an insight into the behaviour of key controls and interactive elements. 'ALT' is a HTML tag. It adds a short line of text to an image, usually for descriptive purposes. If you are using a mouse and you 'hover” the pointer over an image on a web page, you will notice that a short line of text appears - this is the alt text. You should also see the alt text if you switch off the images on your browser - the images have been replaced by 'placeholders” and the same short line of text which appeared when you hovered the mouse over the image.

Quinn, Anthony. Frontend Infocentre (2001). Design>Web Design>Accessibility

11.
#34473

Effective Alt Text

It is perfectly possible to diligently apply alt text to every image on a site and create a result that is completely useless. Unless the alt text effectively conveys the information the image displays, it will be ineffective.

Frontend Infocentre (2008). Articles>Web Design>Accessibility>Graphic Design

12.
#19321

Effective Error Messages

State-of-the-art usability engineering should eliminate user errors. But in the real world, those users (the majority) who do not read instructions and prefer to 'figure things out as they go' are inevitably going to come unstuck occasionally. In these situations, interface designers must ensure that the feedback provided is as helpful as possible in setting the user back on the right track. Unclear and unhelpful error messages tend to mean that errors will recur, or take longer to resolve. The resultant frustration can lead users to mistrust the interface or even abort the task in question. This result can be disastrous, if for example it happens during the course of an online reservation or purchasing process.

Gaine, Frank. Frontend Infocentre (2000). Design>Web Design>User Centered Design

13.
#34461

The Experience is Key

It is important to remember that the experience a person has using a product or service is every bit as important as that product or services usability.

Frontend Infocentre (2009). Articles>User Experience>Usability>Emotions

14.
#34458

Five Ways to Reduce Costs With User Centred Design

User centred design can be a useful and speedy way of increasing efficiency and hence reducing costs. More often that not, design is seen as a way of increasing sales, attracting eyeballs or retaining customers. However at Frontend we've noticed that some of our most successful projects concentrate on cost-reduction and business efficiency. Here's a few ways we've used user centred design to help our clients save money.

Frontend Infocentre (2009). Articles>User Centered Design>Project Management

15.
#34462

Focus Groups - Advantages and Limitations

Focus groups are a great way to collect information from several people very quickly and cost effectively. They are mainly used to gauge people’s reactions and feelings to items, however when used appropriately they can also be used as part of user requirements gathering.

Frontend Infocentre (2009). Articles>Usability>Methods>Focus Groups

16.
#19284

The Future of the "Mobile Internet"

In the near future the number of mobile Internet access devices will surpass the number of PCs in the world. This obviously has a number of implications for the future of the Internet and what form it will take in this changed environment. A recent article in the Economist compares the transition to that from the telegraph to the ‘speaking telegraph’, or what we now call the telephone. In both instances a technology which had been the preserve of specialist operators was passed into the hands of the public. And in both cases, this transition caused huge changes despite the underlying technology remaining largely unchanged. New usage models emerged as the user base changed.

Farrell, Tom. Frontend Infocentre (2001). Articles>Usability>Mobile

17.
#27476

Highlighting Functionality

Research indicates that most users never find the majority of the functionality in any given application. Learning tends to reach a plateau early on, and is rarely expanded upon. And what that means is that most customers consistently undervalue the software products they purchase and use.

Farrell, Tom. Frontend Infocentre (2006). Design>Web Design>Usability>User Centered Design

18.
#19043

The Interface in the Environment: "One Size Fits Nobody"

At the outset of an interface design project we would normally conduct a detailed phase of user requirements gathering. We have discussed the various methods of conducting these in previous articles, but typically this includes stakeholder interviews and task analysis exercises. As many of you will be aware the results of this stage will lead to the development of user personas, task scenarios and ultimately lead to the development of wireframe screens of the interface. We tailor this approach to suit the job, so that specialised interfaces such as stock trading software will focus more on complex task analysis while mass-market interfaces such as Interactive TV will focus more on different user profiles. If the research and analysis is carried out well, then the resulting interaction design should be effective, allowing users to complete the required tasks easily. However, apart from the user and task there is one other key factor influencing the usability of the interface – the user environment.

Long, Frank. Frontend Infocentre (2001). Design>Web Design>User Interface>Contextual Inquiry

19.
#19298

Intranet Usability

The Internet hype may be dying down, but one area in which productivity gains can still be a reality is intranet development. Intranets could hardly be described as the sexy end of web development, but many companies around the world are experiencing real value from improved efficiency in terms of internal communications. Intranets can be big business. But unfortunately, Intranets often illustrate everything that is worst in web design. I imagine most readers of this article will be familiar with those corporate Intranets that become little more than a collection of department websites, each with its own navigational structure, look and feel, and content. Some organisations even pride themselves on this laissez faire approach to Intranet development, seeing the intranet as an opportunity for departments to express themselves online.

Farrell, Tom. Frontend Infocentre (2001). Design>Web Design>Intranets>Usability

20.
#27412

Introduction to the User-Centred Design Process

User Centred Design (UCD) is an approach to design where the end user is placed at the heart of the design and development process. It could even be described as a ‘Design Philosophy’. Knowing who your users are, what they want and if your system is fulfilling their needs is central to UCD.

Murphy, Fiona. Frontend InfoCentre (2006). Articles>User Centered Design

21.
#34465

Introduction to User Centred Design Process

The key principal of UCD is integrating users that represent the profiles of the target user group/s into the development process. Typically, friends, family and (most definitely) colleagues are not representative of the target user base! However, they’re nearly always free with advice. But the validity of this advice is often questionable. In order to integrate unbiased user feedback into the process the following are key steps in a UCD process.

Frontend Infocentre (2009). Articles>User Centered Design>Methods

22.
#19318

Is Flash Too Flash?

Amongst Internet developers, Macromedia Flash is certainly something of a hot potato. On the one hand, many designers see Flash as a powerful multimedia tool that encourages originality and dynamism on the otherwise 'static' web. Proponents of usability, on the other hand, have argued that the presence of Flash on a website is a 'usability disease', '99% bad' and have even branded it as 'evil'. They ask the obvious question: why do the biggest, most well known and profitable websites in the world decide against using Flash? However, the reality is that although Flash presents many usability issues, it is not inherently unusable. It can be used to create usable websites - but this requires designers to follow strict implementation guidelines.

Gaine, Frank. Frontend Infocentre (2000). Design>Multimedia>Software>Flash

23.
#19317

Is The Web On TV An Oxymoron?

The convergence of the web and television throws up numerous challenges for usability engineers. As more and more of the population choose to access the Internet through their television (usually via set-top boxes and with the assistance of television remote controls), optimizing web pages for use on these devices becomes a priority. These issues tend to be exacerbated by inherent differences between the two technologies. For instance, television is usually thought of as 'lean-back' technology, whereas the computer is seen as 'lean-forward' technology. Television viewers on average sit more than 9 feet away from their sets, whereas computer users are usually within 13 inches of their monitors. Television viewers are accustomed to being passive and having information presented to them. Computer use requires more active interaction and maximizes user initiative. It is possible that the fundamental conflict between these modes of operation will mean that web-on-television is doomed to failure. But, in the meantime, what can be done to ensure high quality user-experience when viewing the web on TV?

Gaine, Frank. Frontend Infocentre (2001). Design>Web Design>Multimedia>Web Browsers

24.
#19048

The Joys of Prototyping

At the heart of any good user-centred design process is the practice of prototyping. By creating and testing interfaces in rough format, designers are able to feed through improvements and feedback from users quickly and easily. This in turn helps to ensure a final product that is an evolved solution, in the sense that it has been through a number of iterations and emerged as fit for the job in question.

Farrell, Tom. Frontend Infocentre (2002). Design>User Centered Design>Methods

25.
#19332

The Language Problem

Inappropriate use of language is one of the most common causes of usability issues in interface design. When using a product (either online or offline) the words used to label functions or buttons are of paramount importance to the user attempting to understand how the object works. After all, these labels are often the only differentiator within a row of identical buttons. If a user has difficulty understanding what these words or labels mean, there is a fundamental problem in mapping functions to their relevant buttons on the interface. If a term is vague, the user is unsure about the resulting action, and if it cannot be understood, it is likely to cause a 'critical' usability error - an inability to complete a simple task. And these difficulties arise surprisingly often - not because users have limited vocabularies, but because designers and developers insist on using terms unfamiliar to them. How does this happen? The one common factor behind every language difficulty is a failure to conduct a user test, or 'phrase audit', with real end-users.

Farrell, Tom. Frontend Infocentre (2000). Design>Language>Web Design>Usability

 
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