Monday, June 11, 2007

Change vs. Stability in Web Usability Guidelines

Most Web usability studies remain constant but not all ...

"A remarkable 80% of findings from the Web usability studies in the 1990s continue to hold today.

As Web usability testing enters its 14th year, it's worth asking how early results have held up to recent user research.

10 years ago, I wrote an article on the changes in Web usability from 1994 to 1997. A few of my original findings were no longer valid a mere 3 years after they were issued. But most of the 1994 guidelines held true in 1997 -- and they're still correct today.

Considering how primitive websites were in 1994, it's striking that most of these initial usability guidelines remain valid for today's sites. It's even more impressive when you consider that the Web currently has 120M sites, and my very first study tested only 5 sites with 3 users. This tiny, exploratory study's outstanding outcome and endurance is testament to the power of qualitative usability methodology.

In 1999, I published my book Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity. I based its guidelines on tests of about 100 websites with 200 users. Over the 5 years between my first test and publishing that first comprehensive book, we learned a lot about Web usability, making it possible to provide sound advice for successful Web design.

Reassessing Old Web Usability Guidelines
It's reasonable to ask whether the guidelines in Designing Web Usability continue to be valid. After all, our current Web usability guidelines are based on testing 831 websites with 2,744 users in 16 countries. The new research is vastly more thorough than the studies I did in the 1990s and has identified more than a thousand new guidelines.

My recent book, Prioritizing Web Usability contains a chapter assessing the guidelines from the 1990s in light of the new findings. (The rest of the book prioritizes the thousands of new usability guidelines according to their importance for business success.)

In the new book, I offer a section on each of the early Web usability guidelines and judge them in relation to current research findings. I award each guideline a number of skulls, depending on how important it is for today's users:

No skulls means that the issue is no longer a problem.

1 skull indicates guidelines that are now minor issues.
2 skulls signify medium-impact usability problems.
3 skulls indicate issues that still cause major problems in current user testing.

Let's define our baseline as the total number of potential skulls if all the 1990s' guidelines had remained major problems and gotten 3 skulls. In fact, several guidelines got 0, 1, or 2 skulls, because various issues have become less problematic over time."    (Continued via Alertbox)    [Usability Resources]


Prioritizing Web Usability


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