Thursday, October 7, 2010

Web Usability and LIS

As we were talking previously in the principles of web design and its usability, we discussed how the design is important, but not as crucial as usability. So many users depend on valuable information for many reasons such as medical, law, or business to meet their needs and in many cases, the needs of a second party. Library Information Science (LIS), in this case becomes relevant to assisting these users or businesses in research.
Web usability testing is one way to find out about how users look at websites. Usability gurus, Nielsen and Pernice (2009) have researched “eyetracking – a simple trail or path of what a person is viewing on a computer screen.” They (Nielsen & Pernice, 2009) have researched web usability by using “heatmaps” that use colors to represent data that shows the fixation of the eye on parts of a website and this gives them a better perspective of how users benefit from a website.
            In looking at web design and usability, designers as well as companies must realize that creating a website is not just about attracting users by using creative graphics. Nielsen and Pernice (2009) recent studies have shown that users did not focus on graphics in many cases; their focus was on information and its links to other pertinent information. In this case, the focus of LIS should be on understanding the importance of web usability and seeking to assist both the business and user to make information more accessible.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What is Web Design?

The term “web design” is hard to explain without confusing it with other types of web developing careers. But according to, “Web design is the creation of Web pages and sites using HTML, CSS, JavaScript and other Web languages. Web design is just like design in general: it is the combination of lines, shapes, texture, and color to create an aesthetically pleasing or striking look. Web design is the work of creating design for Web pages.”
So, why is Web design important? To give you a better understanding of the importance of web design, let’s look at this:



In looking at these cartoons we realize that these websites, even though we have no way of knowing of their true existence, we can assume by the audience it attracted, that these websites were functional and accessible.

Principles of Web Design
In considering the look of a web page, what principles can we apply? According to (2010), “If you learn the principles of design, you'll have Web pages that look better and work towards their goals in a clear and efficient way.” There are four principles that were discussed in this page: (1)Layout; (2)Navigation; (3) Color; and (4)Font.
The first principle, the layout of the design, is critical to any company who has a website. Websites that are organized, visually appealing and not overwhelming, will get better results from potential customers. “The parts of a Web page can be broken down into five distinct elements” (, 2010, principles of web design, layout):
1.      Images – draws the eye of user to specific area; decorate page.
2.      Headlines – title; headline that is prominent to other font.
3.      Body content – the other font that is text; structured and easy to read.
4.      Navigation – other links attached that correlate to web page; keeps users on same page.
5.      Credits – gives details about the page; copyrights; publication info, etc.
Second, the navigation of a website also plays an important role in the principles of design. Sometimes customers are “turned off” by websites because they are not able to find what they need because of poor organization or links that do not work or having to click on too many links to get to the information needed.
Adding color to a website can be used to be creative and it can be fun, but using too much color or bright colors can also prove to be a disaster. In’s website (Web Design/HTML/Understanding Color and Web Color Scheme), “There are four basic color schemes that you can use for a Web site.” Clicking on each underlined word will get you the site that will show you the color schemes.
monochromatic - Using colors of the same hue. They may have different tints or shades depending upon how much white or black is added. They are also easier on the eyes.
analogous - This uses colors that are close to one another on the color wheel. They can work together, but they can also clash.
complementary - This is often seen as "opposite" because the two colors in a complementary color scheme are opposite one another on the color wheel.
triadic - These colors are evenly spaced on the color wheel. You can also create tetradic or 4-color color schemes, where the colors are equally spaced around the color wheel. It can produce vibrant web pages.
Finally, our website cannot function without words. Font and typography are important features because they can distribute important information to your audience. Typography is “Simply the art of print. Good typography is not only clear and legible but easy and pleasant (” It can however trigger a negative effect if the font is too big, too small, and not readable because of poor choice of font style. We will look at a sample website a bit later. So now that we have looked at some principles of design, let’s look at another aspect of designing a web page.

Web Design Usability and Ten Mistakes
            In the book, Designing Web Usability, by Jacob Nielsen, he states:
            “Usability rules the Web. Simply stated, if the customer can’t find a product, then he or she will not buy it. The Web is the ultimate customer-empowering environment. He or she who clicks the mouse gets to decide everything. It is so easy to go elsewhere; all the competitors in the world are but a mouseclick away.” Nielson also describes mistakes that a web designer needs to stay away from. Let’s look at Nielson’s Alertbox ( Top Ten Mistakes in Web Design.
1.      Bad Search – overly literal search engines which don’t allow users to find items because of typos or other variants. See cartoon on right.
2.      PDF Files for Online Reading – PDF files break user’s flow.
3.      Not Changing the Color of Visited Links – links do not change color making it harder for users to know if they have already visited site link.
4.      Non-Scannable Text – too much text is boring, intimidating and painful to read.
5.      Fixed Font Size – when font is fixed it reduces reader’s readability.
6.      Page Titles With Low Search Engine Visibility – titles of web pages that are not easy to find because title is not humble or simple.
7.      Anything That Looks Like an Advertisement – users will ignore designs that look like advertisements.
8.      Violating Design Conventions – being inconsistent will make users feel insecure.
9.      Opening New Browser Windows – computer screens being polluted by other open windows.
10.  Not Answering Users' Questions – users are looking for specifics and when not given these answers, they simply assume the product doesn’t meet their needs and a sale is lost.
Now, here comes the good part and the end of this brief explanation of web designing. Now, let’s look at this website: World's Worst Website. Can you spot some mistakes using the principles of design and Nielsen’s explanation of web design usability?


Sunday, October 3, 2010

How is LIS informed by IA?

Actually, one could say that it is the other way around - or at least it was initially. In his article, Soft Skills for Information Architecture, posted on the Digital Web Magazine site, Jeff Lash explains that, "...the current practice of information architecture was largely influenced by library science." He goes on to encourage information architects to embrace their inner librarian, "by developing a system for storing and retrieving useful information." So, we can look to the cataloging work done by librarians to give us insight on how an information architect might approach her task of linking information on a website.

LIS and IA are themselves closely linked. In fact, it is two LIS graduates, Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld, who wrote the book, Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large-scale Web Sites. While their book is praised by the Library Journal in an excerpt on the Amazon website, for their ability to "show how to design manageable sites right the first time, sites built for growth." The Library Journal gives the authors accolades because, "They discuss ideas of organization, navigation, labeling, searching, research, and conceptual design. This is almost common sense, which is often overlooked in the rush for cascading style sheets and XML." While this may seem like common sense to a librarian for whom clarity and ease are of the utmost importance, the information architect may find a few issues with the way Morville and Rosenfeld present their information. For an information architect, there is more to the job than just creating a user friendly navigation scheme. On the website for Eastgate, creators of hypertext technologies, and publishers of hypertext related non-fiction and fiction, is a review of Morville and Rosenfields text. Though the reviewer (unnamed) did find LIS practices significant, "All designers of large Web sites need to be familiar with the indexing and cataloging skills that Rosenfeld and Morville explain. Lessons from library science are worth learning...". He or she also found flaws in some of the author's thinking:

"Though the authors' background as librarians is their strength, it also weakens the book. Cataloging and searching are what Rosenfeld and Morville do best; once the reader gets to the "right" place, the authors lose interest. Navigation is regarded to search engines and indexes. The book's skepticism toward "cool" Web design has drawn many accolades, but misses a key point: Web sites are strongest when everything -- graphic design, organization, writing, and hypertext structure -- serves the same end." 

The author certainly makes a valid point - information architecture is about usability, and there are many factors that go into this. A visually enticing site is certainly one that is more welcoming to its user. Thus, an information architect should be taking into consideration how the information she is organizing is going to be perceived by the user: as something fun and attractive, or boring and banal. This is where the work of a website designer becomes crucial to that of an information architect.

Friday, October 1, 2010

What is Information Architecture?

The goal of Information Architecture (IA), as we have been informed by the dinosaurs, is to allow internet users to interact (interface) with a web site as easily and comfortably as possible. A local Colorado company, Usability First, defines IA as "the work that goes into creating intuitive navigation schemes for software."  That a user will be able to navigate a website intuitively, without having to track down information like a hunter  following the footprints of her prey, is the information architects primary concern. Rather than relying on often ambiguous language, the information architect tries to infuse the website scheme with an information scent that will guide users naturally to the information they desire.

So, how do information architects conceive of these schemes and when does their work become the domain of website designers? When we think of architecture we generally think of buildings and everything that goes in to building them from function to aesthetics. However, IA is more concerned with function than with the way a website will look - that is the work of a website designer. The WIRED website explains that IA "is the science of figuring out what you want your site to do and then constructing a blueprint before you dive in and put the thing together." Thinking of the components of a navigation scheme for your website as building materials for a skyscraper (or a quaint cottage, depending on the size of your site) is a good metaphor to begin to understand how an information architect begins to create her site blueprint. Before one can build a building, they must first consider who they are building it for, what purpose it will serve, and how  the structure will be supported while providing the correct amount of space, air circulation, and light to make moving  around in the space comfortable. This means the architect must consider how many windows, doors, and  rooms she will need to incorporate in her building and what materials will be most effective and supply the best support for it. WIRED has a wiki tutorial that guides one through the phases of IA, breaking it down into five easy to follow lessons. The lessons include:

Lesson 1:   
 Lesson 2:
Lesson 3:
Lesson 4:  
By the time the information architect reaches the phases in the fifth lesson she will probably already have been consulting with a website designer, however it is essential that she work closely with a designer in the last phases of implementation.