Optimizing the User Experience: Excerpts from a Government Report

“Users will make the best use of websites when information is displayed in a directly usable format and content organization is highly intuitive. Websites should be designed to facilitate and encourage efficient and effective human-computer interactions.”

That’s governmentese for “make your website easy to use.”

Many users prefer to read text from a paper copy of a document. They find this to be more convenient, and it allows them to make notes on the paper.

SWEPA will try to translate the government report into Earthpeople talk and add pithy comments along the way.

Standardize task sequences.
When you ask the site visitor or “user” to do a task—such as enrolling in your membership program—arrange the steps in a typical, familiar way. For instance, if you provide drop-down boxes, use them consistently. Don’t use drop-down boxes for date selection in one part of your site, and then switch to pop-up calendars in another part of your site.

Don’t require users to “think” too hard.
Don’t overload them with information. Don’t offer too many options. Two choices is optimal. Three choices is probably too many and will diminish response rates.

Don’t ask them to wait more than a few seconds for a page to load.
The best way to facilitate fast page loading is to minimize the number of bytes per page. Use graphics sparingly and learn how to optimize them to load faster.

While they wait, provide users with “feedback” such as an hourglass to indicate the wait time.
Alternatively, use a short text message that tells them the page is loading (lest they drift away out of boredom or impatience). If computer processing will take over one minute, indicate this to the user and provide an auditory signal when the processing is complete.

Inform users of long download times.
Indicate to users the time required to download an image or document at a given connection speed.

Make website pages easy to print.
Many users prefer to read text from a paper copy of a document. They find this to be more convenient, and it allows them to make notes on the paper. Users sometimes print pages because they do not trust the website to have pages for them at a later date, or they think they will not be able to find them again.

Develop pages with widths that print properly. Ensure that margin-to-margin printing is possible.


Never “push” unsolicited windows or graphics to users.
Users commented that unsolicited windows or graphics that “pop up” are annoying and distracting when they are focusing on completing their original activity.

Some users read slowly or make entries slowly.
Let users know if a page is programmed to “time out,” and warn them before time expires so they can request additional time.

Speak the language of your customer.
Terms such words as bread crumbs and navigation bar that a clear to you may be unfamiliar to your prospective subscriber. Even if users know how to use an element, the terms they use to describe it may not be the same terms that you use.

Don’t require the user to “multi-task.”
Generally, users can read from a monitor as fast as they can from paper, unless they are required to perform other tasks while reading. For example, do not require users to look at the information on one page and remember it while reading the information on a second page.


Accessibility issues

Websites should be designed to ensure that everyone, including users who have difficulty seeing, hearing, and making precise movements, can use them.

Provide text equivalents for non-text elements.
In order to be truly user-friendly for people with disabilities, text equivalents should be used for all non-text elements, including images, symbols, image map regions, animations (e.g., animated GIFs), applets and programmatic objects, ASCII art, frames, scripts, images used as list bullets, spacers, graphical buttons, sounds, stand-alone audio files, audio tracks of video, and video.

Ensure that all information conveyed with color is also available without color.
About eight percent of men and about one-half of one percent of women have difficulty discriminating colors.


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