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Accessibility and Usability Forum

    
Usability - redundancy is a big factor
The Department of Redundancy Department
tedster




msg:1582669
 5:17 am on Feb 6, 2003 (gmt 0)

I'm just coming to understand how important redundancy can be to creating high usability in a web page. Different people are naturally "keyed in" to different factors, and any one person may be focused differently at different times.

So having a good number different clues on a page for the same thing can make a real improvement in usability.

-- Redundant Cues for Links --
For instance, by default links are a different color AND they are underlined. Remove one of those clues that say "I'm a link" and you're going to confuse a few more people. Remove them both and you're in big trouble.

Now add in a hover behavior - that's a third redundant clue. And it gets even better if the background color changes on hover (a fourth redundancy), as well as the text color.

Just a few minutes ago I was on a site that had no hover behavior. I was momentarily confused as to whether that underlined word (same color as the other text) was really a link. Not only that, but there was a second underlined phrase on the line just below. With no hover behvaior, it wasn't clear whether this was one link with a line break, or two different links.

-- More Redundundancy --
Can visitors navigate a site from the bottom of the page? Once primary navigation is scrolled away, it's good usability, in my experience, to have site navigation of some kind at the bottom of the page. Someone who just read that far should be rewarded by having you make their life a little bit easier.

-- Rendundancy in Copy --
This is just a bit off-topic for this particular forum, but another example of important rendundancy comes into play in the copy. I find that writing for the web requires more use of the actual noun - the name of the thing. In print, we might use a pronoun or some other word that refers back to a subject we mentioned previously.

But on the web, we're better off in many cases using the actual noun again. People are often skimming and may have not read the earlier sentence that sets up the pronoun.

 

richmc




msg:1582670
 10:44 am on Feb 6, 2003 (gmt 0)

i'm not sure people are so easily confused by links. for instance static graphical links are often recognisable by their position on a page, such as in a list down the left of a page or a horizontal strip near the top.

also the actual words of the link can make it clear its a link ("Privacy Policy", "About this Company", "Home Page", you get the idea..).

i guess what i'm getting at is there are other cues than coloring and rollover states which alert the user to links.

as far as links in content text, i think as long as there is _somekind_ of visual cue which differentiates them from the surrounding text, users have become used to identifying them as links. i would simply make them a different color - say red text for links, with maybe an underline when you place the cursor over it (or vice versa).

at the end of the day its simple to check if a link is a link by placing the cursor over the link and watching it change to the "pointing hand of truth" ;-)

---

i totally agree on bottom page navigation being very useful though - not only for users but for search engine spiders that may be confused by stuff like flash/javascript powered navigation nearer the top (like dropdown menu scripts and stuff)

mayor




msg:1582671
 10:53 am on Feb 6, 2003 (gmt 0)

I still think the standard 468 x 80 pixel banner is a sure giveaway for a link so I still use them. Not only is it a link, it gives the visitor all kinds of strong visual cues about where the link will take them. Then I usually put a text link right under the graphic link. How's that for redundancy!

aspdaddy




msg:1582672
 10:54 am on Feb 6, 2003 (gmt 0)

>i'm not sure people are so easily confused by links.

I dont agree, when you are on the information scent you are quickly scanning not reading, I have no time for sites that dont distinguish text links clearly. I just makes it that little bit more difficult.

>..have site navigation of some kind at the bottom of the page

I never realised how importnat this was until a client was reviewing a site I built. He quickly read each page, scrolling down and was then annoyed that each time he had to scroll back up to the navigation.

With the bottom links, it just makes it so much more usable, especially if the current pages link is selected - or some other way of letting you know where you are, where youve been and not been etc.

running scared




msg:1582673
 12:01 pm on Feb 6, 2003 (gmt 0)

at the end of the day its simple to check if a link is a link by placing the cursor over the link and watching it change to the "pointing hand of truth"

I think links help to maintain interest on a site. Essentialy they are adverts for what else the user can find by sticking around. Why remove or risk removing this natural stickyness by making them difficult to spot.

tedster




msg:1582674
 12:06 pm on Feb 6, 2003 (gmt 0)

Another example of redundancy - a consistent scheme for heads/subheads. They work well when they use at least two or three of these visual cues, rather than just one:

1. Different size from the body text
2. Different color
3. Different position (such as a hanging indent)
4. Different letter spacing
5. Different font
6. Different line-height (for two line headers)
7. Different font weight

One of the best tips I collected early on came from Robin Williams' book, "Web Design foe the Non-Designer" -- and no, this isn't Mork, it's a very smart lady. She said that when you're making one thing different from another, then make the contrast B I G instead of creating only a very small difference.

Her advice became a major part of how I design.

aspdaddy




msg:1582675
 12:27 pm on Feb 6, 2003 (gmt 0)

I agree with what you are saying , but is it redundancy?

I think redudancy is where something isnt necesary, and adds nothing, for example lots of lines separating content when there is a good grid based layout anyway using spacing and alignment - newspaper columns.

bcc1234




msg:1582676
 12:33 pm on Feb 6, 2003 (gmt 0)

I agree with what you are saying , but is it redundancy?

Good point :)
A "Contact Us" link both at the top and the bottom of the page is an example of redundancy.

Marking your headers with a different font is more of a consistency than redundancy...

caine




msg:1582677
 1:04 pm on Feb 6, 2003 (gmt 0)

Tedster,

I thouroughly agree with all your points. Basically the brighter you can make the light the easier it is too see, hence more-avoidance from obscuring the links, is a definite.

Furthermore, links at the bottom of the page is something as yet i have'nt delved into, but will consider for any of the longer doc's that i may publish in the future.

dantheman




msg:1582678
 1:35 pm on Feb 6, 2003 (gmt 0)

Using nouns also adds keywords..hehe

rcjordan




msg:1582679
 3:00 pm on Feb 6, 2003 (gmt 0)

I'm braindead and can't think of much more to write other than Bingo! ...but, IMHO, massively redundant navigation is the absolute key to controlling where your visitors go. I have pages with nav on the top, the bottom, the left, and mixed in among the content. I also use different formats on the same page, some having (for the same target) text menus, click maps, tiles, and banners --I'm working now to add skyscrapers. Yes, haute design is going to suffer. However, besides responding to it, JohnQ seems to love it. I frequently get comments re: I can always find what I'm looking for on your site.

Push-come-to-shove, the bare minimum would be redundant header and footer site nav (text links).

pjean




msg:1582680
 3:20 pm on Feb 6, 2003 (gmt 0)

But can't massively redundant navigation reduce usability in terms of option overload? And how does redundancy impact the designers effort to drive users on the page to take a specific action? If a page is designed to be task-oriented (especially ecommerce), wouldn't it be just as usable to provide site navigation in one consistent space throughout the site and use the rest of the page to give the user the information they're looking for and a clear action to take to move forward?

rcjordan




msg:1582681
 3:56 pm on Feb 6, 2003 (gmt 0)

Welcome to WebmasterWorld, pjean.

Be forwarned, I've only had 20 oz of coffee so far --gears don't begin to mesh until well into the 2nd mug.

My first usability concern involves "scanning and scrolling." I operate under the assumption that the user is doing the first and hates the later. If he's there for the reasons I think he's there for, he's going to click the first option he happens to connect with. But, he's scanning, nor has he really grasped the site layout fully. Also, there's a danger that he's either partially tuned-out some of the design elements or -worse- misinterpreted them and mentally written them off as not being what he wants. So, the footer nav is a sort of usability error-trapping; he's there because I couldn't entice him into action earlier on the page.

>wouldn't it be just as usable to provide site navigation in one consistent space throughout the site

Basically, my concerns are (A) he missed it and (B) having missed it, he's too lazy to go back and look for it.

DrCool




msg:1582682
 4:52 pm on Feb 6, 2003 (gmt 0)

Great post Tedster.

On most of my sites the "redundancy" can border on being obnoxious but it seems to work. Rather than trying to "hide" the important information or make it blend in to the rest of the site it needs to stand out (H1 tags, bold text, proper link colors, etc.).

homegirl




msg:1582683
 4:53 pm on Feb 6, 2003 (gmt 0)

Great topic Tedster! Some thoughts:

at the end of the day its simple to check if a link is a link by placing the cursor over the link and watching it change to the "pointing hand of truth" ;-)

I've been to sites where they disabled this- and it was very confusing because the link looked like ordinary text (wasn't underlined, didn't have the associated "pointing hand", link reference couldn't be seen at the bottom) and yet if you clicked on the group of words, you were sent elsewhere. Can't think of why they chose to set it up this way.

Redundancy and consistency are both useful. Consistency is easier to follow and saves the viewer's time (if the overall functionality corresponds to some sort of standard). Redundancy that's (dare I say it) "respectful" of the user- isn't clutter and isn't annoying or overwhelming is extremely helpful to users. For example, replying to this post- Brett's set it up so we can reference a particular page's discussion which is helpful as an aid. There are further tools to the left of our message that open up new windows if we need a reminder about the style codes, posting guidelines, etc. In other forums, you'd have to leave the page, scroll down the page, lose sight of the thread, etc. just to access this info.

RCJordan- I'm particularly interested in your massive nav technique. I've worked for several large companies (including Fortune 500) where I've felt this worked against them and also made the page more challengine for SEO purposes. I could find the info I needed faster with any one of the following: simple nav, search tool, site map.

Janettadine




msg:1582684
 5:03 pm on Feb 6, 2003 (gmt 0)

Sites often have so much content on each page, that you have to scroll to read everything-- and as a curious reader, who wants to make sure I don't miss anything, I always scroll all the way through. If I have to then scroll back up to navigate, it starts to get old by the third page of content or so, and annoyance outweighs curiousity.

There are so many different ways to present navigation, that if you put several on your page, you're bound to have at least one method that your visitor is familiar with, and they can navigate more quickly, instead of taking a moment to find their way. Impatience seems to be the one thing everyone on the web has in common. ;)

Go60Guy




msg:1582685
 6:39 pm on Feb 6, 2003 (gmt 0)

Another very useful tool for long pages is the "Back to Top" link. Its a sort of catch all to help overcome confusion as to where the visitor can go if vagueness sets in.

ruserious




msg:1582686
 7:03 pm on Feb 6, 2003 (gmt 0)

I have to agree with what is being said, that the more clues to links, the better. I had people on our Forums that had been there for several months, written hundreds if posts, asking me to add a Link from an index-vote to the related Discussion... Although the Question of the vote was linked right from the start, he (and probably many others) failed to recognize.

I guess the most needed thing still missing on most sites is the "Do-What-I-Want" or the "Show-Me-What-I-Am-Looking-For"-Button. *G*

karakas




msg:1582687
 12:17 am on Feb 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

My Homepage (TM ;) ) contains documents of a more or less technical nature. I use DocBook SGML [docbook.org] for their creation. Redunduncy comes in various ways into play here:

  • Each document is "rendered" in various formats - HTML, PDF, TXT, PS, RTF to name those known most, but SGML, TEX and LYX are also possible.
  • Each page contains a header and a footer with "Prev", "Next", "Up" and "Home" links.
  • A navigation frame with a tree menu structure is always available, unless the user chose to "view frame in window".
  • Cross linking to chapters, sections, tables, figures, examples is supported perfectly and I make use of it whenever I can. I never say "see the picture below", but rather "see Fig. XX", where XX is calculated automatically by editor (LyX [lyx.org]) and is rendered as a link by the SGML parser (Jade/Openjade [openjade.sourceforge.net]).
  • There is a Table of Contents (chapter and section titles are links), a List of Figures (figure titles are links to the figures) and an Index (keywords, followed by the link to the relevant chapter, or page for the print formats).

What is important though: redunduncy should not destroy style. *Consistent* formatting is important throughout the pages and the documents. I leave this hard part always to the DSSSL stylesheets [docbook.sourceforge.net]. They take care that, say, an admonition will appear consistently as such with whatever style elements are aproppriate for the format (online or print).

Actually, I don't care about formatting. The DSSSL stylesheets take care of this. I concentrate on content and cross-referencing. The rest is put in place by the stylesheets and I find it good so. It's a good way to separate content from formatting (and to automate the creation of redunduncy a bit by choosing DSSSL stylesheets that create rich navigation elements, like header, footer, table of contents, list of figures and index).

[edited by: tedster at 6:37 am (utc) on Feb. 7, 2003]
[edit reason] <remove url> [/edit]

tedster




msg:1582688
 11:00 pm on Feb 10, 2003 (gmt 0)

A related usability enhancement comes when articles (or slide shows!) are split into many pages. The easy way out for the page builder is to link page 1 to page 2, then page 2 to page 3 and so on. This forms a sort of "well" or "chimney" that the visitor climbs down into.

But the usablility flaw is that backing up two or three pages, or returning for a second visit to check out page 4 another time becomes a bit of an ordeal.

It takes extra work, and on first glance it might *seem* redundant, to provide links TO every page FROM every page in the article. This linking style is a usability ehancement for human visitors and spiders alike.

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