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Introduction to Web Analysis and Design

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Charles Lyons introduces the difficulties of Web design, the Web development cycle, the iterative nature of the prototype cycle, and more.
This sample chapter is excerpted from Charles Lyons's book Essential Design for Web Professionals.
This chapter is from the book

Imagine you have been called into your boss's office. Your boss says, "We've just received a directive to develop a corporate Web site. It has to be done in one month and it has to be done right! No shortcuts and no quick and dirty approach that will lead to endless reengineering and retrofitting. The directive indicates that the methodology used to develop the site must be as rigorous and thorough as that used to develop and deploy software systems. Our corporate Web standards group has mandated we use Macromedia Dreamweaver 3 as an implementation tool. Any questions?"

Don't panic! You will be able to develop, test, and implement the corporate Web site using a solid methodology. You will also be able to learn Dreamweaver 3 quickly so that you can use this powerful tool successfully. Let's get started with the basics!

Web Design Difficulties

The Web presents unique design difficulties. These include

  • too much information
  • impatience of Web readers
  • limits to short-term memory
  • tendency to get lost
  • reading from screens more difficult than paper

Too Much Information

The Web consists of volumes of information, which is sometimes disorganized and difficult to get through. In order to make any sense out of the information, the reader must often resort to trial and error to ferret out logic that should have been organized and made obvious by the author.

Impatience of Web Readers

Web pages can render slowly, causing the user endless frustration. Users will leave a Web site in about two to four seconds if they do not see something useful at the outset. Often, the reason for this quick exit is that the information is presented in a disorganized or confusing way.

Limits in Short-Term Memory

Coupled with user impatience, are limits in short-term memory (STM). STM is the throwaway memory that we use every day to function, and it is fragile. For example, suppose that you have just looked up a telephone number and are about to dial the phone. Someone comes into your office and asks, "Would you like to go to lunch?" It is likely that the phone number will pop out of your memory and you'll have to look it up again.

There are real limits to STM that are independent of culture, intelligence, and gender. Generally, people can handle about four to six items of information at one time. Presenting information into groups of four to six items is essential to enable readers to scan a Web page quickly and find information. Reading pages on the Web is slower than reading from a paper document.

Tendency to Get Lost

Web pages are not always well organized. Readers have difficulty, since they are often dealing with different formats.

With disciplined, logical thinking, a designer can build an interface that will guide users through a site so that every click adds value to the user's task. Links and navigation on a Web site should be intuitive; that is, the user should be able to use the site without having to resort to trial and error.

Reading from Screens More Difficult

For a variety of reasons, reading from screens is more difficult than reading from paper. Fonts are not as clear and crisp. Readers generally see one screen in front of them at one time. The space available to the designer is limited. Therefore, the designer must create an efficient and lean screen design that facilitates scanning and finding critical information. My experience is that continually reading from a screen is tiring, so keeping text short and lean should be an overall objective.

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