A List Apart

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Topic: Usability

  • Visual Decision Making

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    If it takes only 50 milliseconds for users to form an aesthetic opinion of your site’s credibility and trustworthiness, are designers who create visually compelling sites simply wasting time and treasure on graphic indulgences? Patrick Lynch doesn’t think so.

  • Introduction to RDFa

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    In part one of a two-part primer on RDFa, learn how semantic features normally confined to the head of an HTML document can be used to add semantic richness to the elements of the body. Mark Birbeck shows us how.

  • Indexing the Web—It’s Not Just Google’s Business

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    Interface responsiveness is one of many details web developers must consider in their quest to deliver a good user experience. An application that responds quickly enhances the user’s sense of control. In working to maximize application speed, though, one often-overlooked element can affect performance more than almost anything else: database design.

  • The Elements of Social Architecture

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    While our designs can never control people, they can encourage good behavior and discourage bad. In this excerpt from Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web 2nd Edition, Christina Wodtke tells us how to make products that delight people and change their lives by remembering the social in social architecture.

  • Return of the Mobile Stylesheet

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    At least 10% of your visitors access your site over a mobile device. They deserve a good experience (and if you provide one, they’ll keep coming back). Converting your multi-column layout to a single, linear flow is a good start. But mobile devices are not created equal, and their disparate handling of CSS is like 1998 all over again. Please your users and tame their devices with handheld style sheets, CSS media queries, and (where necessary) JavaScript or server-side techniques.

  • Getting Real About Agile Design

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    Agile development was made for tough economic times, but does not fit comfortably into the research-heavy, iteration-focused process designers trust to deliver user- and brand-based sites. How can we update our thinking and methods to take advantage of what agile offers?

  • Flexible Fuel: Educating the Client on IA

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    IA is about selling ideas effectively, designing with accuracy, and working with complex interactivity to guide different types of customers through website experiences. The more your client knows about IA’s processes and deliverables, the likelier the project is to succeed.

  • Understanding Progressive Enhancement

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    Steven Champeon turned web development upside down, and created an instant best practice of standards-based design, when he introduced the notion of designing for content and experience instead of browsers. In part one of a series, ALA’s Gustafson refreshes us on the principles of progressive enhancement. Upcoming installments will translate the philosophy into sophisticated, future-focused design and code.

  • Test-Driven Progressive Enhancement

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    Starting with semantic HTML, and layering enhancements using JavaScript and CSS, is supposed to create good experiences for all. Alas, enhancements still find their way to aging browsers and under-featured mobile devices that don’t parse them properly. What’s a developer to do? Scott Jehl makes the case for capabilities testing.

  • Zebra Striping: More Data for the Case

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    As designers or marketers, we share a desire that our tables and forms be easy to scan, read, and use. Does the widely practiced shading of alternate rows help, hurt, or have no effect? A previous study proving inconclusive, designer and researcher Jessica Enders has tackled the conundrum again, coming up with statistically relevant data and a set of recommendations.

  • Look at it Another Way

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    Before you can solve a user’s problems, you must see them as that user sees them. Once you understand what drives people’s behavior, not only do new ideas flow freely, but the ideas that flow are appropriate and useful. Indi Young tells how to get out of your own way and hear what your users are telling you.

  • Deafness and the User Experience

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    Because of limited awareness around Deafness and accessibility in the web community, it seems plausible to many of us that good captioning will fix it all. It won’t. Before we can enhance the user experience for all deaf people, we must understand that the needs of deaf, hard of hearing, and big-D Deaf users are often very different.

  • Zebra Striping: Does it Really Help?

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    Just because a design convention exists doesn’t mean it works. Our field runneth over with design patterns, but is low on evidence of their utility. Jessica Enders drops some science on the widespread belief that zebra stripes aid the reader by guiding the eye along a table row.

  • Sign Up Forms Must Die

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    You load a new web service, eager to dive in and start engaging,  and what’s the first thing that greets you? A sign-up form. We can do better, says Luke Wroblewski, author of Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks. Via a technique of “gradual engagment,” we can get people using and caring about our web services instead of frustrating them (or sending them to a competitor’s site) by forcing them to fill out a sign-up form first.

  • Findability, Orphan of the Web Design Industry

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    Findability is to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as “web standards” is to “table layouts.” In a web whose vastness exceeds comprehension, sites with findable content win. The good news is that everyone on your team can help make your site findable. Get a taste for this essential discipline from Aarron Walter, author of Building Findable Websites: Web Standards, SEO, and Beyond.

  • Version Targeting: Threat or Menace?

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    Version targeting shakes our browser-agnostic faith. Its default behavior runs counter to our expectations, and seems wrong. Yet to offer true DOM support without bringing JScript-authored sites to their knees, version targeting must work the way Microsoft proposes, argues Jeffrey Zeldman.

  • Put Your Content in my Pocket, Part II

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    Screen size matters. And now that Apple is embedding mobile Safari in more iPods than the iPhone alone, it matters even more. Concluding his remarkable two-part series, Craig Hockenberry covers the down and dirty details of designing and coding with the iPhone (and its brethren) in mind.

  • Never Use a Warning When you Mean Undo

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    Are our web apps as smart as they should be? By failing to account for habituation (the tendency, when presented with a string of repetitive tasks, to keep clicking OK), do our designs cause people to lose their work? Raskin’s simple, foolproof rule solves the problem.

  • Inside Your Users’ Minds: The Cultural Probe

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    Drawing on the field of ethnography, Ruth Stalker-Firth introduces a method for studying user behavior and motivations outside the lab.

  • Ruining the User Experience

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    Anticipating your users’ needs is the key to making a good impression; it’s the little things that matter most. ALA technical editor Aaron Gustafson explains why progressive enhancement means good service.