Usability of University Websites

The Guardian reports on a usability study of UK university websites:

As universities begin to gear up for this summer’s Clearing season, when they hope to field inquiries from thousands of candidates still without a place, a piece of market research shows just how out of touch many of them are. They are, in a word, too academic, full of swaths of information that leave web-surfing students bored and irritated. That is the verdict, at least, of a company that sat down two groups of first-year sixth formers and asked them to find information on university and college websites.”

Read the article (via Louise Ferguson).

The danger of too many features

Another great article and illustration from the folks at Creating Passionate Users about the dangers of featuritis:

What if instead of adding new features, a company concentrated on making the service or product much easier to use? Or making it much easier to access the advanced features it already has, but that few can master? Maybe what they lose in market share in one area will be more than compensated for in another area. In a lot of markets, it’s gotten so bad out there that simply being usable is enough to make a product truly remarkable.

ROI of user-centred design

The following article is a nice little case study demonstrating the value of using a user-centred approach to software development. The Return on Investment (ROI): 90% less calls to the support centre, and as the articles describes:

No matter how trivial, every support call has some costs associated with it. Installation should be easy, and initial use should be intuitive.”

The bottom line […] is straightforward: focusing on the design of the product had a significant impact on the cost of supporting the product.

Of course, there’s a very positive sales benefit to this, too: ProtectionPilot’s UI design has already generated favorable reviews in the U.S. and Europe, with ease of use a common theme.

Read the article: Clean, Cutting-edge UI Design Cuts McAfee’s Support Calls by 90%

Innovation through people-centred design

The UK government Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Global Watch Service provides funds to assist small groups of technical experts from UK companies and academia to visit other countries for short, fact finding missions. And this is their latest report: Innovation through people-centred design – lessons from the USA (PDF – free registration required).
I guess you could argue that the local Department of Trade and Enterprise is doing something similar, but in reverse: bringing the likes of IDEO President Tim Brown for the upcoming Better by Design Conference in March 2005 (people-centred design, design-led business – we’re all fundamentally talking about the same thing…)

The difference between the alt and title attributes

456 Berea Street provides a good summary of the difference between the alt and title attributes

Alt text is not meant to be used as a tool tip, or more specifically, to provide additional information about an image. The title attribute, on the other hand, is meant to provide additional information about an element. That information is displayed as a tooltip by most graphical browsers, though manufacturers are free to render title text in other ways.

Bridging the gap between User and Business Goals

Keith Robinson expands on his ideas about bridging the gap between User and Business Goals in a new article over at Digital Web.

Once you’ve altered your process to help align business and user goals, look for ways to show the value of your efforts in business terms. You can start slowly by holding a postmortem with your client and/or stakeholders to discuss how the project went. Gather success stories that show how user-centered design actually helps meet business goals and go out there and evangelize those to the people who count.

How and Why People Use Camera Phones

Microsoft has researched How and Why People Use Camera Phones. One of their conclusions:

A second important finding was the recognition that
capturing and sending has the first glimmerings of a new and compelling genre of communication which, at this point, is fraught with problems. There are obvious implications to deal with barriers to use including the elimination of technical complexity, lowering cost, and improving image quality. Unless and until this happens, it may be some time before a critical mass of users sees picture messaging traffic increase.

(via UI Designer)

Design Checklists for Online Help

Michelle Corbin provides some Design Checklists for Online Help (via InfoDesign)

Online help systems have evolved over the past 20 years to meet the needs of our users. Designers must consider the content, format, presentation, navigation, and access methods of online help systems. A series of design checklists based on the past 20 years of research are presented in this paper, which summarizes a journal article currently being considered for publication.