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Guidelines for link appearance

Jakob Nielsen's guidelines for links appearance:

- Links should be coloured and underlined, though exceptions can be made in menus
- Underlining is important for users with low vision and essential for colour-blind users, if you use red or green link colours
- Shades of blue provide the strongest signal for links, but other colours work almost as well!
- Use vivid and bright colours for unvisited links and "washed out" colours for visited links
- Colours for unvisited and visited links should be variants or shades of the same colour
- Use small fonts for nothing but non-important links, such as copyright info
- And, hey, don't underline text that's not a link and don't render text in link colours

Nielsen also dislikes visual effects, when the cursor hovers over a link, but I can't see how this could cause any usability problems.


  • The article Guidelines for Visualizing Links

Henrik Olsen - May 10, 2004

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See also: Links (12) 



Choosing form elements

Sarah Miller and Caroline Jarrett present a four-step process for choosing form elements. Here are some of their guidelines:

- Avoid using drop-downs for navigation
- If it is more natural for the user to type the answer rather than select it, use type-in boxes
- If the answers are easily mis-typed, use radio buttons, check boxes, or drop-downs
- If the user needs to review the options to understand the question, donít use drop-downs
- If there are very few options (4 or less), use radio buttons or check boxes - if there are less than 30, use drop-downs
- If the user is allowed to select more than one option, use check boxes
- Keep options visually distinctive or consider a type-in box in preference to a list
- Avoid too many different input methods


Henrik Olsen - May 09, 2004

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See also: Forms (11) 



Web writing that works

Jonathan and Lisa Price, authors of the book Hot Text, have set up a website with loads of tips on how to write for the web. Among the good stuff are their guidelines, their advice on how to write within common genres (such as FAQ's, step-by-step procedures, and customer assistance), and an evaluation tool to measure the quality of your own writing. You'll also find lots of sample chapters from their book spread around the site.


  • The site Web Writing That Works!

Henrik Olsen - April 26, 2004

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See also: Text (13) 



Usability dwells in the details

According to Larry L. Constatine, successful interaction design for e-commerce sites and web- applications requires meticulous attention to detail, because the smallest matters can ruin the user experience. The ones to blame are the usability professionals failing to pay attention to details and not telling programmers that these tings matter.

In his opinion, it is possible to make your way more or less directly to good design, by following principles of good form and interaction. In the article, he list six broadly focused design principles to follow and explores them by examples.


  • The article Devilish Details: Best Practices in Web Design

Henrik Olsen - March 25, 2004

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See also: Guidelines and Standards (10) 



The Page Paradigm again, again

Mark Hurst goes about his Page Paradigm once again, and he is forgiven, since it has a simplicity and consequence to it that Einstein would have loved.

Mark's Paradigm goes like this: On any given web page, users will either...
- click something that appears to take them closer to the fulfilment of their goal,
- or click the Back button on their Web browser.

This time Mark takes a look at some of the inherent consequences of the Paradigm, which includes:
- Users don't much care where they are in a website
- Users ignore breadcrumbs and other navigational elements that don't lead them toward their goal
- Consistency doesn't help users

What matters to the users is whether it's easy to advance to the next step towards their goal and elements that don't do the job will simply be ignored.

Einstein said that "Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler." Some argue that Mark's Paradigm might be too simple.


Henrik Olsen - March 09, 2004

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See also: Web page design (23)  Navigation (46) 



Utilize web page footers

According to Jeff Lash, short is out, scrolling is in, and the bottom of web pages should be utilized more effectively. Keep users involved with features such as partial or total sitemaps, "Rate this" features, or special bargains and closeout.


  • The article More Than Just a Footer

Henrik Olsen - February 14, 2004

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See also: Web page design (23) 



Usable forms for e-commerce

Since people don't enjoy filling out forms, you should minimize the annoyance by making them easy to use. Andrew Starling form Web Developers has some tips on how to design usable forms at e-commerce sites.

Some highlights:
- Don't ask too many questions and don't collect information that will never be used.
- Don't ask for the same information twice.
- Don't make fields required unless they are in fact required for the transaction
- Add explanations for required fields, where the reason for it isn't obvious.
- When using radio buttons and dropdown boxes, don't forget a "no selection" option, if the selection is optional.
- Long dropdown lists may be clumsy but they make error rates go down for things such as country and date selections
- Don't clear form entries that where perfectly valid when you send an error message.
- Separate required transaction forms from optional customer profiling forms
- Judge your usability success by how many forms are badly filled in


  • The article Usability and HTML Forms

Henrik Olsen - December 08, 2003

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See also: Forms (11) 



Optimizing entry pages

According to Jeff Lash, often more than 50% of a web site's visitors come directly into relevant pages through links from other sites, search engines and emails. Such entry pages should be designed with first-time visitors in mind.

"At a basic level, this means informing them of what the site is, what section they are in, and what tasks they can accomplish. At a more in-depth level, this entails providing related pages or supplemental information, establishing credibility through copywriting and branding, and displaying privacy and security notices if appropriate."

"Internal debates where managers fight for home page links on the public Web site may very well be fruitless. More attention needs to be paid not just to understanding how users are getting to your site, but what their entry and referring pages are."


  • How did you get here? - Designing for visitors who don't enter through the home page

Henrik Olsen - June 09, 2003

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See also: Web page design (23) 



User-friendly URLs

Often URLs are hard to type, remember and preserve, because they are littered with punctuation and identifiers that are irrelevant to us. Thomas A. Powell and Joe Lima show us how to design well-formed and user-friendly URLs.

Some highlights:
- Keep them short and sweet
- Use lower case
- Do not expose technology via directory names (e.g. /cgi-bin/)
- Avoid punctuation in file names (e.g. product_spec.html)
- Plan for host name typos (e.g. or
- Allow omission of the www prefix (e.g.
- Add guessable entry point URLs (e.g.
- Remove or rewrite query strings (e.g. posting.asp?postingID=313 to posting313.asp)


Henrik Olsen - April 13, 2003

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See also: URLs (3) 



How to write informative blurbs

Dennis G. Jerz teaches us how to write blurbs:

"On the web, a blurb is a line or short paragraph (20-50 words) that evaluates (or at least summarizes) what the reader will find at the other end of a link. A good blurb should inform, not tease."

According to Jerz, good blurbs can:
- Help people navigate a site by describing content at the other end of a link
- Help people decide whether to invest time in clicking on associated links

Some guidelines:
- Be informative and don't just tease people
- Don't use hyperbole language
- Describe, summarize and/or give a sample of what's to be found at the other side of the link
- By evaluating the content you help people determine the value of the information


  • Blurbs: Writing Previews of Web Pages

Henrik Olsen - April 01, 2003

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See also: Text (13) 

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