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Characteristics of A Great Website

8.1 Usability

Usability means ease of use. Before making a Website public, the best way to evaluate its usability is to have naive users try it out. This is the equivalent of market-testing a new product and adjusting the product (or the way it is marketed) to help it succeed financially.

There are three areas to consider in evaluating the usability of a Website's design:

Clarity of Purpose/Meaning

There is a saying that sums up the impact of usability: The clarity of purpose, or meaning of your communication is reflected in the results that you get.

A great Website is one that has been fine tuned at several levels through repeated testing and adjusting to ensure that the combination of text, graphics and links creates the intended message. As one Website user put it, "The more well-organized a page is, the more faith I will have in the info."

Shoddy construction and bad graphics are easy to generate; precision and clarity are difficult. The hardest design concept to master is "less is more." It is the responsibility of the Website provider to prioritize the information presented.

Website users routinely skip over material that they deem to be fluff. This includes introductory/welcome messages. They almost always immediately scan for a HyperLink to the information they are seeking.

When Sun Microsystems developed its home page, it was evaluated repeatedly by a team of naive users for clarity. The resulting design process took much longer than planned, but it resulted in a perfectly clear home page. Sun offers a detailed discussion of what it underwent in its Website design process at its home page (http://www.sun.com).


Speed is function of four variables:

  • The size of the files in the Website (bigger equals slower),
  • The capabilities of the server (computer) the Website files reside on,
  • Traffic volume on the Internet at the time the Website is visited and
  • The capabilities of the Website visitor's computer.

While it is not possible to control the visitor's equipment or Internet traffic, it is possible to manage the other variables.

Website file-size problems are generally due to the use of graphics. The ability to integrate striking pictures into the dreary text of employment advertising leads to large graphics files. Complex corporate logos, multiple icons and fancy backgrounds all have the effect of slowing a Website's performance. Many users' experiences with Websites are an ordeal of waiting.

Before you launch your Website, review sizes of your graphics files. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that file sizes of 10K or less per Website page will cut down on the waiting time. That's 10K total for all graphics on each page. Using larger graphics files generally results in a terrible first impression for Website visitors.

The server is the computer on which your Website resides. The server may belong to your firm or it may belong to your service provider. Many servers are terribly overburdened, and therefore responsible for slowness in Website response. Yet the only performance evaluation that matters is a user's.

Your service provider should be able to give you routine evaluations of the performance of a Website generated from a location away from the core hardware. Make sure that these evaluations of server performance are presented to you in language that you understand.

Information Design

Information design is the art and science of ensuring that your message is communicated to the user without being a burden. Information design includes laying out the information that the user wants in a way that makes it very easy to get. One way to accomplish this is to minimize the number of mouse clicks that users must execute to get the information they need or want. This type of design is not simple to execute, but when it's done well, it makes the Website "feel" simple to use.

Remember, even though the Web allows the provision of seemingly endless amounts of information, the fundamental usability design principle for a Website is less is more.

This is an excerpt from the 1997 Electronic Recruiting Index.
It appears in Chapter 8 of the book.
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