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Report on how to design web applications

Hagan Rivers has written a 54-page report that deconstructs some of today's most complex web applications. The report gives step-by-step guidance though the process of creating successful web application.


  • The Designer's Guide to Web Applications, Part I - Structure and Flows Open link in new window
  • Interview with Hangan Rivers about the report Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - December 07, 2006

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See also: Web applications (6)  Books (47) 



The complexity of designing for simplicity

Everybody demand simplicity in design of digital products, but simplicity doesn't come easy. In his pursuit to design for simplicity, Luke Wroblewski has frequently encountered the following problems:

- Perceived simplicity can often conflict with actual simplicity of usage.
- Actions that provide real value and drive revenue often have steep learning curves.
- Designing for gradual engagement (hiding away advanced features until users ask for them, also called progressive disclosure) is quite difficult to design and build

According to Luke, we should not think of these problems as reasons to give up on the pursuit of simplicity. "Being aware of these considerations is actually likely to make our jobs simpler."


  • The Complexity of Simplicity Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - December 04, 2006

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See also: Simplicity vs. capability (7) 



People buy the products with most features

Luke Wroblewski has looked at the dilemma of capability vs. usability. According to a Harvard Business Review article, people judge the quality of a product based on the number of features, if they have never used it before. After having used these products however, usability will start to matter more than features.

This puts product developers in a dilemma. In order to maximize initial sales, they need to add many features to their products. But in order to maximize repeat sales, they need to prioritize ease-of-use.


  • The Sweet Spot for Buying Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - November 22, 2006

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See also: Simplicity vs. capability (7)  Research (129) 



The book Getting Real

37signals have made their book Getting Real available online for free (you can still buy a PDF and now they also have a paperback).

The book is about how to build successful web-based applications the "smarter, faster, easier way" and features a short chapter on interface design.


  • The book Getting Real Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - November 05, 2006

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See also: The design process (24)  Web applications (6)  Books (47)  Online books (5) 



Should we organize things into topics or according to usage?

According to Donald Norman, well-structured organization schemes, where hammers are in the hammer section and nails in the nail section, are practical when we want to find things. But when we engage in an activity, we need an activity-centered design, where the nails are right next to the hammer.

"The best solution is to provide both solutions: taxonomies and taskonomies. Some websites organize all their items logically and sensibly in a taxonomic structure, but once a particular item has been selected, taskonomic information appears. For example, if examining a pair of pants, the website might suggest shoes and shirts that match."

"Activity-centered design organizes according to usage: traditional human-centered design organizes according to topic, in isolation, outside the context of real, everyday use. Both are needed."


  • Logic Versus Usage: The Case for Activity-Centered Design Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - September 25, 2006

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See also: Information architecture (15)  Navigation (63) 



Interview with Luke Wroblewski about visual design and usability

UIE has published an interview with Luke Wroblewski, author of the book Site-Seeing: A Visual Approach to Web Usability. In the interview, Luke talks about how visual design can improve a site's usability.

"When properly applied, visual design is all about communication. The better at communicating we are, the easier it is for our users to use and appreciate the web sites we design."


  • Where Visual Design Meets Usability - An Interview with Luke Wroblewski , Part I Open link in new window
  • Where Visual Design Meets Usability - An Interview with Luke Wroblewski , Part II Open link in new window
  • Luke's book at Open link in new window
  • Luke's book at Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - July 02, 2006

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See also: Interviews (30)  Emotional design (10)  Visual design (19) 



The battle between usability and user-experience

To Thomas Baekdal there is a conflict between high usability and great user experiences. Usability is about the ability to use something, while user-experience is about feelings and making people happy.

Freeways are usable, since they take you from A to B in the most effortless way. But they are also utterly boring. A twisting mountain road on the other hand is exiting. But far from usable.

According to Baekdal, we end up with mediocrity if we try to balance usability and user-experience. It's like trying to turn a mountain road into a freeway.

Instead we should focus on creating synergy by "making it easy to be happy."

"The result is that you use usability to take away all the things that distracts you from happiness, and you use the elements of user-experience to empower what people can do."


  • The Battle Between Usability and User-Experience Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - June 27, 2006

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See also: Emotional design (10) 



Users love link-rich home pages

Clients want their home pages to be simple. This is often translated into "has to hold as few links as possible."

Jared Spool from UIE argues that exposing people to the content of a site enhances simplicity. With a good design, the upper limit of links is much higher than one might think. Sites with up to 700 links on the home page have proven to work very well for its audience.

But populating a page with every possible keyword won't do the trick. The secret is clustering:

"Users look at each cluster and quickly decide whether the cluster is likely to contain their content or not. By focusing on just one or two clusters, the user winnows down their choices to just a handful of links."

If we don't make the clusters right, user won't succeed. Learning how users think about the content requires research, iterative design, and testing.


  • Lifestyles of the Link-Rich Home Pages Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - June 15, 2006

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See also: Tips and guidelines (95)  Simplicity vs. capability (7)  Home pages (9)  Navigation (63) 



B2B sites suck

Business-to-business websites have substantially lower usability than mainstream consumer sites. In a usability test, the B2B sites earned a mere 50% success rate. In contrast, mainstream websites have a success rate of 66%.

According to Jakob Nielsen, the major problems with B2B sites are:
- The fail in supporting customers' decision-making process by preventing them from getting the information they need to research solutions
- They use segmentation that don't match the way customers think of themselves
- They require customers to register to get information, which they are very reluctant to do
- They lack pricing information (the users in the study prioritized prices as the most critical type of information)

Most of the test participants said that when they were thinking of doing business with a company, one of their first actions was to check out its website. By being user-hostile, the B2B sites turn away customers without ever knowing how many sales they've lost.


  • B2B Usability Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - May 30, 2006

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See also: Research (129)  Persuasive design (21)  E-commerce (27) 



Are ugly sites more trustworthy?

Josh Lehman has published a summary of the discussion about whether users trust a site more if it looks ugly. There seem to be an agreement among designers that it's not the ugliness of the sites that make them successful, but rather their usefulness and ability to provide the features the users want.

Josh concludes:

"I'm sorta relying on a consistant market need for design work in order to feed my family and pay the bills."

"But all that aside... I agree with the overall point that a site's function should always trump it's visual design."


  • The Ugly Conversation Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - March 30, 2006

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See also: Visual design (19) 


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