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50 Web Site Deconstructed
on May 29, 2003
According to this book, users spend most of their time on other sites than your site... When a user visits your site, he/she will be bringing a large load of mental baggage accumulated from prior visits to thousands of other home pages. So by the time they reach your web site, users have accumulate a generic mental model of the way a homepages are supposed to work, based on their experience on these other sites.
It is a very interesting point. According to authors of the book, there are few large web sites that might count themselves among the first 10 to 20 sites visited by new users. And design of these web sites dictate the design conventions that a user will expect when he/she visits other web sites.
Example of some of these conventions mentioned in the book are:
upper-left corner is the best place for a site logo
upper-right corner are more generic locations for search widgets and "help" links
Navigation of the site is best usable either as a tab-style (such as in amazon.com) or as a column on left side of the page (such as in CNN.com)
Links should be blue-underlined, and visited links should be purple-underlined
footer navigation links should be only for "foot-note-related" content and should be limited to no more than 7 links
on and on it goes
So how do authors derive these conclusions? The process is actually very interesting. They conduct studies of top 50 chosen web sites and group their findings into conventions.
The book also "deconstructs" those 50 chosen Home Pages, and provides annotated analysis. You may find it interesting. Among those are such sites as About.com, Accenture.com, Yahoo.com, BBC Online, CNET, Disney, eBay, Microsoft, IBM and many more.
Although majority of the book is on annotating home pages, authors also give some generic tips on home page design. Some of those tips I recall are:
liquid page layout is preferred over fixed sized tables
the most optimal page width is 760 pixels (for fixed layout)
page length of the homepage should be around two full screens, but not more than four
frames suck big time
horizontal scrolling is the curse
"Guest Books" are not for pros
Do not use exclamation marks!
and on and on it goes
While reading homepage annotations, I felt very strong emphasis on the title of the homepages (the one between <title> and </title> tags). These tags are easily left un-noticed, one would think. But properly chosen titles make big difference while bookmarking your page. Try it yourself.
In other words, do not start your titles with "The" and "Welcome", because in person's favorites lists, it would be misplaced in the alphabetical order.
I strongly recommend this book to anyone venturing in Web Designs.
P.S. Although the book is on Home Page usability, the book itself doesn't seem "usable" at all. Size of the book is so clumsy that doesn't fit in a standard sized book shelf.