Positioning the Content
Content owners and authors are usually the domain experts. They should be members of the usability design team from the very start. Before the designer can create formats, layout, and pages, the content needs to be specified.
Specifying the Goals. Defining a site's content starts with specifying goals. Making sure that the users' functional goals are met in the site design is paramount. The site's goals and functionality should be clearly marked and visible on the site's home page and on the most likely pages from which the site may be visited. This information can be effectively provided by using buttons or tabs with keywords denoting the primary site functions. As we can see in Figure 7.2, the CNNfn Web pages represent well the subsite's goals as keywords, such as Deals & Debuts, Retirement, Markets, World Business, and News, on tabs.
Figure 7.2: CNNfn Web page (Reprinted with permission.)
Specifying the Tasks. Task analysis to decide what tasks follow from the identified goals is the next step in the process of creating site content. Tasks can range from the general, such as "finding information," to the specific, such as "contact customer service." The designer should not only specify the tasks but also prioritize them. Priority can be determined on the basis of the most to the least important tasks or on the basis of a performance frequency scale. By prioritizing the tasks, the designer can decide on the order of functionality presentation on the site's home page and on the subsites. Furthermore, in defining tasks, the site's title should represent a major task and the site's topics should represent subtasks. Each topic should have a clearly stated goal. The subtasks should also be ordered according to which task is most likely to be performed. Defining the tasks and topics can be done by such methods as structured interviews and focus groups.
Organizing Site and Content. The goal here is not simply to organize information on a single page but to make the site's content coherent. A site that is structured in a coherent manner for the user supports the user's structural and functional mental models of the content. These models should be directly related to the content's goals and tasks discussed earlier. Often a site's content is organized to reflect the internal structure of an organization (Heller and Rivers, 1996) instead of user expectations of the site's topics and tasks.
To ascertain the users' mental models of information organization (after specifying the tasks and topics as described earlier), we can employ the card-sorting technique reported by Nielsen and Sano (1994). Each topic and task is written on a card. Then a sample of users is asked to group the cards according to their relatedness or semantic closeness. The result of this process is a collection of information chunks that designers can use to organize the site. Depending on the size of the site, each topic will have its own page in a task-logical order or, for large sites, its own subsite. Figure 7.2 shows an example of topics within a subsite represented as tabs. Figure 7.3 shows the pull-down menu of the CNN subsites. Titles, labels, and names should be carefully selected with the audience in mind when organizing site content and chunks of information, as well as site and subsite goals. The user should not have to look up the definition of site words to figure out what the site is about.
Figure 7.3: The CNN subsites' pull-down menu (Reprinted with permission.)
At this stage, designers begin the task of structuring the information and the tasks into a Web site. They use the resulting chunks of information to organize the site into coherent pages, subsites, and related sites. Subsites organize a body of information that can be used in performing tasks without having to visit other subsites. The subsites of a given Web site are related by a common user interface and a consistent look and feel.
For example, the CNNfn subsite shown in Figure 7.2 allows the visitor to get all financial news of the day without ever visiting the CNN news home page. But because people who are interested in news are often interested in more than one type of news, the overall structure of a site should permit visitors to get to the home page of any of the subsites from any site page by clicking on the subsites menu. The CNN site allows you to do subsite navigation from only some of the pages. The subsite pull-down menu is not available on every page. It is not even available on every subsite home page. Additionally, where the menu is available, it is not placed in a consistent location. Contrast the home pages of CNNSI.com, CNN.com, and CNN.com Europe. Figures 7.3, 7.4, and 7.5 show that the subsites' pull-down menu is on the left side for CNN.com, on the right side for CNN.com Europe, and not available at all for CNNSI.com.
Once the structure of a site or subsites is established, then the designer should focus on identifying and creating types of pages within a site such as home pages, a log-in page, transaction pages, and feedback pages. Chapter 8 gives a more complete treatment of page selection and design.
Figure 7.4: The CNN.com Europe subsite pull-down menu (Reprinted with permission.)