A List Apart


Topic: Usability

Creative problem solving. Designing for your audience. Designing for contingencies. Designing feedback loops. Conducting meaningful user testing—even on the cheap. A primer on A/B testing. Testing accordion forms. Good "Help" content is hard to find. Quick and dirty remote user testing. Web standards for e-books.

  • Hello, My Name is <Error>

    by Aimee Gonzalez-Cameron · Issue 428 ·

    Registering for school, paying bills, updating government documents—we conduct a significant part of our daily lives through web forms. So when simply typing in your name breaks a form, well, user experience, we have a problem. As our population continues to diversify, we need designs that accommodate a broader range of naming conventions. Aimee Gonzalez shows how cultural assumptions affect what we build on the web—and how fostering awareness and refining our processes can start to change that.

  • Sharing Our Work: Testing and Feedback in Design

    by Jessica Harllee · Issue 426 ·

    Showing your in-progress designs can be scary, but there’s no better way to keep your product in line with your users’ needs. Research and testing aren’t just boxes to be checked off; they’re methodologies to be integrated into the entire design process—and the more, and the more diverse, the merrier. Jessica Harllee explains how Etsy shares their work with users every step of the way—and the benefits (and surprises) that follow.

  • The Risky Business of Onboarding

    by Rick Pastoor · Issue 424 ·

    Attracting—and keeping—new users is a delicate dance. Too many obstacles and people don’t sign up; too little interaction and they don’t come back. The ideal onboarding process turns potential users into loyal ones—by thoughtfully identifying new users, teaching them to use your product, and giving them a reason to return. Rick Pastoor shares his onboarding framework and what he’s learned about the difference between a good onboarding process and a great one.

  • WAI-finding with ARIA Landmark Roles

    by Lyza Danger Gardner ·

    Between the intricacies of documentation and the risk of wielding too much power over the browser, WAI-ARIA can be daunting. For the dev uncertain on how to fold accessibility best practices into their daily workflow, Lyza Gardner sets out to summarize one category of roles—the landmark roles. They help user agents map out the territories on a page so the user can navigate them with greater ease, and they’re a great place to start getting familiar with ARIA’s part in assistive technology.

  • Readable Wearables

    by Matt Griffin ·

    Displays that are more tiny than our lowest-size breakpoints require a more condensed range of type sizes. If you don't already have in place a typographic system that can absorb the demands of this new context (watches, wearables, digital sticky notes, whatever), now might be the time to consider it. Matt Griffin was ready for anything because his site was simple and built to be future friendly.

  • Reframing Accessibility for the Web

    by Anne Gibson · Issue 413 ·

    If you’ve been treating “people with disabilities” as an edge case for your websites, consider this a reckoning. Web accessibility means that everyone can use the web. The job of a web designer isn’t to question the configurations, devices, and tools that users bring to the table; it’s to rise to the challenge of making a site work for anyone who wishes to use it. Anne Gibson makes the case for site testing, inclusivity, and a better way of thinking about people online.

  • Stars and Stripes and ISO Codes

    by Antoine Lefeuvre ·

    The labels of version links are key to navigating international websites. Making sure they are clear and unambiguous can increase user happiness and make you stand out in a crowd.

  • Collaborative User Testing: Less Bias, Better Research

    by Alla Kholmatova · Issue 405 ·

    We all want user research that provides reliable guidance for our teams. But bias is tricky—it’s often introduced unknowingly. How can we be sure that the results of guerrilla user research sessions are as impartial as possible? Alla Kholmatova has the answer: getting more collaborative in how we plan, lead, evaluate, and analyze our user research.

  • Kids 4–6: “The Muddy Middle”

    by Debra Levin Gelman · Issue 398 ·

    Full of knowledge and creativity but not yet quite able to read, kids from ages 4 to 6 occupy a “muddy middle” for designers—they’re too old for toddler games, but too young for most apps and games made for “big kids.” Learn how to understand this group in this excerpt from Deb Gelman’s book, Design for Kids, out now from Rosenfeld Media.

  • Designing for Easy Interaction

    by Sarah Horton, Whitney Quesenbery · Issue 389 ·

    Whether you contribute to the user experience, development, or strategy of your website, you have a business, ethical, and (in many cases) legal responsibility to make your site accessible. And an equally compelling duty to your stakeholders, creativity, and career to achieve accessibility without sacrificing one whit of design or innovation. So what’s a site and application maker to do? For starters, read this book! We are thrilled to present an exclusive excerpt from Chapter 5 of A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences by Sarah Horton and Whitney Quesenbery, available now from Rosenfeld Media—and with a 20 percent discount for ALA readers, even.

  • Flat UI and Forms

    by Jessica Enders · Issue 384 ·

    Though some decry flat user interfaces as pure fashion, or as the obvious response to skeuomorphic trends, many designers have embraced the flat approach because the reduction in visual styling (such as gradients, drop shadows, and borders) creates interfaces that feel simpler and cleaner. Trouble is, most flat UIs are built with a focus on the provision of content, with transactional components (i.e., forms) receiving very little attention. So what happens when flat UIs and forms collide? User experiences can, and often do, suffer. Keep your flat forms from failing by using controlled redundancy to communicate difference.

  • Seeing the Elephant: Defragmenting User Research

    by Lou Rosenfeld · Issue 381 ·

    Silos: good for grain, awful for understanding customer behavior. Just as we favor the research tools that we find familiar and comfortable, large organizations often use research methods that reflect their own internal selection biases. As a result, they miss out on detecting (and confirming) interesting patterns that emerge concurrently from different research silos. And they likely won’t learn something new and important. IA thought leader Lou Rosenfeld explains how balance, cadence, conversation, and perspective provide a framework enabling your research teams to think across silos and achieve powerful insights even senior leadership can understand.

  • Shades of Discoverability

    by Cennydd Bowles ·

    Many modern digital products enable complex, emergent behavior, not just pure task completion. We’re building habitats, not just tools; yet we often think of discoverability only in terms of task execution.

  • Douglas Engelbart and the Means to an End

    by Karen McGrane ·

    ENIAC, the world’s first programmable digital computer, was completed in 1944. Today, more people have access to mobile phones than have access to toilets. There are more mobile internet users in the developing world than in the developed world. It took just seventy years to get from a device the size of a two-story building to a device that fits in your pocket.

  • Designing for Services Beyond the Screen

    by Andy Polaine · Issue 377 ·

    You redesign the website for an airline, but who is designing the check-in machines, the CRM systems used by call center staff, the print materials, or the policies the cabin crew must adhere to? Like it or not, these channels are part of the overall user experience. Your website or mobile app might be great on its own, but customers experience services in totality, and base their judgments on how well everything works together. Learn to design beyond the screen. By creating visual and tangible artifacts that can be experienced and tested, you can build a bridge between business and design.

  • Your Website has Two Faces

    by Lyle Mullican · Issue 369 ·

    Your website must serve human and robot masters. An interface that reflects too much of a system’s internals will confuse human users; but if data doesn’t conform to a specific structure, it’s likely to confuse the machines that need to use it. How can your designs serve these very different masters? Jon Postel's Robustness Principle, although usually applied to low-level protocols like TCP, offers a clue to designing experiences that meet human and machine needs with equal grace. Lyle Mullican explains.

  • Translation is UX

    by Antoine Lefeuvre · Issue 366 ·

    We—the people who make websites—now study almost every aspect of our trade, from content and usability to art direction and typography. Our attention to detail has never been greater as we strive to provide the best possible experience. Yet many users still experience products that lack personality or are difficult to understand. They are users of a translated version. While good localization boosts conversion rates, bad or partial translation may ruin a user experience, giving people an uneasy feeling about the whole company. If we care equally about all our users, it’s time we start thinking of translation as something slightly more complex than a word-to-word job. Antoine Lefeuvre shares why translation matters, and what it takes to get it right.

  • Beyond Usability Testing

    by Devan Goldstein · Issue 357 ·

    To be sure we're designing the right experience for the right audience, there's no substitute for research conducted with actual users. Like any research method, though, usability testing has its drawbacks. Most importantly, it isn't cheap. Fortunately, there are other usability research methods at our disposal. The standouts, expert review and heuristic evaluation, are easy to add to a design and development process almost regardless of budget or resource concerns. Explore these techniques, learn their advantages and disadvantages, and get the low-down on how to include them in your projects.

  • Audiences, Outcomes, and Determining User Needs

    by Corey Vilhauer · Issue 345 ·

    Every website needs an audience. And every audience needs a goal. Advocating for end-user needs is the very foundation of the user experience disciplines. We make websites for real people. Those real people are able to do real things. But how do we get to really know our audience and find out what these mystery users really want from our sites and applications? Learn to ensure that every piece of content on your site relates back to a specific, desired outcome , one that achieves business goals by serving the end user. Corey Vilhauer explains the threads that bind UX research to content strategy and project deliverables that deliver.

  • Dark Patterns: Deception vs. Honesty in UI Design

    by Harry Brignull · Issue 338 ·

    Deception is entwined with life on this planet. Insects deceive, animals deceive, and of course, we human beings use deception to manipulate, control, and profit from each other. It’s no surprise, then, that deception appears in web user interfaces; what is surprising is how little we talk about it. All the guidelines, principles, and methods ethical designers employ to design usable websites can be subverted to benefit business owners at the expense of users. Study the dark side so you can take a stand against unethical web design practices and banish them from your work.