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How people scan web pages

The usability consultancy UIE conducted an eye-tracking study to find out how people scan a typical three column web page layout.

Some major findings:
- The users usually scanned in the centre area first, then the left area and then the right column
- The users would only investigate the left and right column when looking for additional information
- The users quickly learned to look where they would expect to find relevant content and avoid areas which was unimportant to their current task, such as banner ads
- The users would only re-evaluate their scan strategies when they detected changes in the layout of pages
- The users where able to determine if surrounding content was relevant before looking directly at it, suggesting that peripheral vision plays a central role in the interaction with the web pages
- Ads attracted users only when they related to the current task – even if the content interested users


  • The article Testing Web Sites with Eye-Tracking

Henrik Olsen - October 21, 2003

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See also: Research (88)  Eye-tracking (6) 



Common web design practices

At the site Web Design Practices by Heidi P. Adkisson you'll find statically research on common design practices currently in use on the Web, covering items such as global and local navigation, breadcrumbs, search and links.

The site can be useful as a guide for making design decisions, but as Adkisson says:

"The data presented are intended to inform design decisions, not dictate them. Common practice does not necessarily equate with best practice - and the relationship between consistency and usability on the Web is remains a lightly researched area."

The site is an outgrowth of Adkisson's Master's thesis.


  • The site Common Design Practices

Henrik Olsen - October 13, 2003

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See also: Links (10)  Search (21)  Navigation (44)  Research (88) 



Balancing visual and structural complexity in interaction design

For people with little experience in interaction design it's tempting to equate visual simplicity with usability. But there is more between heaven and earth than meets the eye. The Q4 issue of GUUUI takes a look at some common pitfalls, where studies have proven that what appears to be simple isn't always what is easy to use.


Henrik Olsen - September 30, 2003

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See also: Visual design (13) 



Fluid vs. fixed-sized web page layouts

In a study from 2001 SURL examined differences between fluid and fixed-sized left-justified and centred layouts of multi-column web pages. They found no significant differences between the layouts in terms of search accuracy, task completion time, or search efficiency.

But significant subjective differences were found that favoured the fluid layout. Participants stated that they perceived the fluid layout as being best suited for reading and finding information and that the fluid layout looked the most professional. The left-justified layout was the least preferred.

The layouts where tested with viewable screen widths of both 770 and 1006 pixels.


  • The article What is the Best Layout for Multiple-Column Web Pages?

Henrik Olsen - September 22, 2003

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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: Tips and guidelines (63) 



Optimal line length on monitors

Dr. Bob Bailey has looked at the literature about optimal line length when reading from a monitor: "What can we conclude when users are reading prose text from monitors? Users tend to read faster if the line lengths are longer (up to 10 inches). If the line lengths are too short (2.5 inches or less) it may impede rapid reading. Finally, users tend to prefer lines that are moderately long (4 to 5 inches)."


  • The article Optimal Line Length: Research Supporting

Henrik Olsen - June 01, 2003

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See also: Research (88)  Text (14) 



Usability Myths Need Reality Checks

Will Schroeder looks at some common Usability myths that have cemented themselves into our profession's foundation and started questioning how they got there.


  • UIE - Usability Myths Need Reality Checks

Tim Lucas - March 23, 2003

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See also: Research (88)  Navigation (44)  Usability testing (28) 



Scrolling is faster that paging

SURL has examined the use of paging vs. scrolling in reading passages of text. The study showed that that it took the participants significantly longer to read text split into multiple pages compared to full text layouts, where they had to scroll.

"Participants stated that they found the Paging condition to be "too broken up," and that they had to "go back and forth" quite a bit to search for information. It is possible then, that for searching as well, viewing more of the document on a single screen facilitated easier scanning."


  • The article The Impact of Paging vs. Scrolling on Reading Online Text Passages

Henrik Olsen - February 27, 2003

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See also: Navigation (44)  Research (88) 



How to design print-friendly pages

In the article, Printing the Web, James Kalbach provides 10 guidelines on how to design print-friendly pages:

1. Remove navigation
2. Remove or change graphical ads
3. Use relative page widths
4. Use serif fonts
5. Add citation information
6. Remove dark backgrounds
7. Write out URLs
8. Display the print-friendly version before printing
9. Collate all information (e.g. parts of an article) into the final print version
10. Ensure that colour coding isn't required to understand content

In the article you'll also find advice on where to learn how use style sheets (CSS) and XSL to control printing formats.


  • The article Printing the Web

Henrik Olsen - February 09, 2003

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See also: Tips and guidelines (63) 



Primer on visual design

Luke Wroblewski has written a nice primer on visual design of web pages, which condenses the core principles of functional aesthetics.

There is too little talk about visual design among interaction designers and information architects though it's an important aspect of usability. If you want to learn more, read Kevin Mullet and Darrel Sano’s book Designing Visual Interfaces.


Henrik Olsen - January 28, 2003

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See also: Primers (8)  Visual design (13) 

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