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Search interfaces should be guided by knowledge about how people search

According to Daniel E. Rose, current search interfaces reflect the inner workings of search technology rather than what we know about how people look for information. In his opinion, we should use our understanding of search behaviour to rethink how we interact with search engines.

Search interfaces should be guided by three principles:
- Provide different forms of interaction to match different search goals
- Facilitate selection of context for the search
- Support the iterative nature of the search task

Most of the time, search is an iterative process like the interaction between a reference librarian and a library patron. Users don't know the right questions to ask until they begin to see some of the results and learn about the subject. Rose mentions the AltaVista Prisma feature, which suggests search refinements, as an example of how search engines can support this iterative process.


Henrik Olsen - November 08, 2004

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See also: Search (27) 



Creating friendly forms

In this sample chapter from the book Defensive Design for the Web, Jason Fried and Matthew Linderman offer a set of illustrated guidelines on how to create attractive and functional forms:

- Highlight either required or optional fields
- Accept entries in all common formats
- Provide sample entries, pull-downs, and formatting hints to ensure clean data
- Explicitly state limits to characters, number of entries, and so forth
- If customers can't choose it, don't show it
- Validate entries (as soon as possible).
- Eliminate the Reset button and disable the Submit button after it's clicked
- Assist form dropouts by saving information


Henrik Olsen - October 04, 2004

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See also: Books (47)  Forms (30) 



Server side usability - How to make web servers behave

Most usability professionals don't have a driver's licence to servers and are not aware of the step that can be taken to make them behave in a user-friendly way. The GUUUI Q4 2004 issue takes a look at how to avoid that server technology becomes an obstacle to usability.

The article suggests that we should:

- Make the "www" prefix optional
- Support "www" prefix typos
- Support domain name typos and spelling errors
- Support erroneous country codes
- Use tidy URLs
- Don't leave users in a dead end when a page cannot be found
- Alert users when a server error occurs
- Have a "We are updating" page ready


Henrik Olsen - October 01, 2004

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See also: GUUUI articles (11)  URLs (3)  Error handling (7) 



Checkbox and radio button guidelines

Jakob Nielsen strikes a blow for checkbox and radio button design standards:
- Radio buttons are used for two or more mutually exclusive options
- Checkboxes are used when there the user may select any number of choices
- A stand-alone checkbox is used for a single option
- Use standard visual representation
- Visually present groups of choices as groups
- Use subheads to break up a long list of checkboxes
- Lay out your lists vertical
- Use positive and active wording for checkbox labels (avoid negations such as "Don't send me more email")
- Use radio buttons rather than drop-down menus
- Always offer a default selection for radio button lists
- Make sure that the options are both comprehensive and clearly distinct
- Let users select an option by clicking its label
- Define accesskeys for frequently used checkboxes and radio buttons


  • The article Checkboxes vs. Radio Buttons Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - September 27, 2004

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See also: Forms (30) 



How to handle the Page Not Found error

Every site should handle the page not found error gracefully. Two quite similar articles have the following tips:
- Do not redirect people to the home page
- Let the visitor know that something unexpected is going on at first glance
- Do not call it "Error 404"
- Don't assume it's the visitor's fault
- Offer a site map
- Offer a search form
- Fix broken links
- Redirect outdated links to the new page locations

It's also possible to make 404 pages more intelligent by:
- Checking whether the link is an outdated bookmark and redirect to the new location
- Check whether it's a broken link in the site and notify the webmaster
- Check whether the link is from a search engine and use the search phrases to suggest relevant content (e.g. by doing an internal search)
- Add spell checking to catch minor typos in the URL


  • 'Not Found' Is Not An Option: Error Handling and User Experience Open link in new window
  • The Perfect 404 Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - September 15, 2004

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See also: Error handling (7) 



Eight quick ways to fix your search engine

Almost every site's search engine could use improvement. Unfortunately, development teams are often stuck tweaking the search technologies that has been purchased and installed.

Jeffery Veen has eight quick ways to improve existing search engines:
1. Take away as much features as you can to simplify your results page
2. Make sure the default ranking you select matches your user needs
3. Make sure the search field has something in it before allowing the form to be submitted
4. Make best bets by taking the top 50 search queries on your site and find three to five pages that satisfy each query.
5. Simplify the layout of your search result page
6. Offer help for zero results
7. If your content is categorized, include links at the top of the result page that show how many results match each category
8. If you link to a page that offers usage instructions, include interfaces for those features so they can be used without switching back and forth.


  • The article 8 Quick Ways to Fix Your Search Engine Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - September 05, 2004

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See also: Search (27) 



Web sites are secondary to user experience

According to Jakob Nielsen, the Internet user experience is becoming one of dipping a toe into websites rather than truly visiting them to explore and use them in depth. Users view the Internet as an integrated whole, and use search engines to hunt for specific answers.

To attract users and keep them involved, you should:
- Offer fly-trap content to attracts users by providing clear answers to common problems
- Embellish the answers with rich "see also" links to related content and services
- Go beyond pure information and provide analysis and insight for people who want more
- Publish a newsletters to build relationships


  • The article When Search Engines Become Answer Engines Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - August 23, 2004

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See also: Site design (14) 



Card Sorting: How Many Users to Test

With the card sorting method we can enhance usability by creating an information architecture that reflects how users organise content. But how many users should we include in a card sorting exercise?

According to Jakob Nielsen, 15 participants will be enough to reach a comfortable result in most projects. Testing 30 people is better but not worth the money. Going beyond 30 users will hardly improve the results. In projects with limited resources for user research, the remaining users are better spent on qualitative usability tests of different design iterations.

His recommendation is based on results from a study measuring the trade-off curve for testing various numbers of users in card sorting.


  • The article Card Sorting: How Many Users to Test Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - July 25, 2004

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See also: Card sorting (13) 



Conduct usability tests regularly and constantly

According to Janice Fracer, usability testing is most effective when it's a low-stress routine activity, rather than a special event that requires a lot of attention. Successful organizations conduct usability tests on a regular, fixed schedule, integrate results quickly into the product, and spend less money.

To develop a effective culture of usability you should:
- Test regularly and constantly (once a month or more)
- Train a couple of staff members to conduct the tests
- Test with five people at a time
- Perform the tests in-house
- Keep reports crisp and to the point
- Make changes immediately
- Leave recruiting to others


  • The article The Culture of Usability Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - July 15, 2004

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See also: Usability testing (68) 



Calculating confidence intervals of usability test

Imagine a usability test where five out of five participants completed all tasks successfully. What are the chances that 50 or 1000 will have a 100% completion rate? By calculation confidence intervals, you will be able to tell that the chances lies somewhere between 95% and as low as 48%.

In his article, Jeff Sauro shows us how calculate confidence intervals of usability tests.


  • The article Restoring Confidence in Usability Results Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - July 08, 2004

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See also: Usability testing (68) 


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