Information design and usability no image

Published on November 20th, 2006 | by Rahel Bailie

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Are you reaching your markets?

Jakob Neilsen’s Alertbox column for the day delivered some brow-raising statistics: 40% of the population las lower literacy skills, which creates a huge barrier for Web usability. Lower literacy is second largest accessibility problem. This digital divide isn’t created consciously or willfully – it’s not like merchants or government are trying to find ways to exclude their target audiences. It’s more like the sales executives are busy making the big-picture decisions, and ignoring the decisions made down the food chain, where the young, trendy web designers are busy creating cool, hip web sites and young, trendy communications coordinators are creating cool, hip copy that, unfortunately, their audience doesn’t get.

There’s still a lot of ego-driven web design out there – and when I talk about design, I include the information architecture of the site, the content architecture, the graphic design, and the copywriting – that speaks more to “look what cool stuff we can do” or rather than “how do I better serve my customer?” This spawned such phenomena as the “skip intro” movement, where web designers insisted on creating Flash introduction pages that irritated consumers so much that the designers were asked to do something to solve the problem, and rather than simply remove the offending page, they kept it, but added a subtle link called “skip intro.” We’re seeing less of this as the industry matures, but there are still plenty of sites around that try to control the size of the type so that readers can’t resize it. It’s one of those “good in theory, bad results” ideas. The theory is that the graphic designer keeps “the look” they want, but the result is simply that the target market can’t resize the text to read it. On a properly formatted site, readers should be able to hold down the control key and use the scroll wheel on their mouse to make the text larger or smaller. Try that today (November 20, 2006 – as sites change every day, I can only speak to the validity today) on the Holt Renfrew home page or Target or Macy’s home pages, where a few of the text items gets bigger but most stay frozen at the size the designer decided on. As customers report that they make less distinction between a company’s web presence and their storefront presence, the company ergonomist may want to take a look at the huge stumbling block being put up just in front of the doorway. You might be surprised who might come in once you take it away.


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About the Author

Rahel Anne Bailie is a synthesizer of content strategy, requirements analysis, information architecture, and content management to increase the ROI of content. She has consulted for clients in a range of industries, and on several continents, whose aim is to better leverage their content as business assets. Founder of Intentional Design, she is now the Chief Knowledge Officer of London-based Scroll. She is a Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication, she has worked in the content business for over two decades. She is co-author of Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits, and co-editor of The Language of Content Strategy, and is working on her third content strategy book,



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