Sunday, September 17, 2006

Weaving Usability and Cultures: Evolution Trumps Usability Guidelines

How usability guidelines should be implemented ...

“Use a Search Box instead of a link to a Search page.”

This is one guideline from the plethora of recently created usability guidelines to help designers produce more usable web sites. It makes sense. After all, there are more than 42 million web sites on the Internet. It should be simple to study these sites and put together a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” that, when followed, will produce easy-to-use sites.

Designing a web site, either usable or unusable, is hard work. There are many details that designers need to take into account, such as browser differences, content management, information architecture, and graphic design. Providing proven guidelines to developers can reduce their already overburdened workload, making one aspect of design that much simpler.

However, we are assuming the guidelines actually result in more usable sites. This is where things start to get murky.

For example, the guideline above suggests that access to your site’s Search functionality should be through a type-in box, not a link. We’ve seen various forms of this guideline in multiple places. The stated implication always is users are less likely to find Search if it is only a link to a separate search page and therefore users are less likely to succeed at accomplishing their goals.

What’s most interesting is that the guideline’s publishers never present any evidence that following it will actually improve the site. The best we’ve seen is one publisher who stated that on their site, when they changed the link to a type-in box, the use of Search increased 91%.

While 91% seems like a lot, if only 1.5% of the site’s total visitors originally used Search, a 91% increase would only bring it up to 2.9%—still unused by 97.1% of the folks visiting the site. In addition, that publisher states that they don’t know if people actually found the information they were seeking because of the change. Given this, is the guideline worth following?"   (Continued via uiGarden)    [Usability Resources]

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