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The User S Charter

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frank gaine

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User since: 22 Jan 2001

Articles written: 5

The following is an attempt to outline a charter of rights for the user of web applications. They are, of course, unenforceable but compliance with them would represent best practice in the design of user-centred interfaces.

More significantly, any violation of the charter would indicate the presence of significant usability problems detrimental to the user experience. And failing to address the requirements of the user leads to frustration, irritation and consequently lost business.

Web site developers should take all reasonable measures to uphold the following user rights and freedoms:

Right to Equal Treatment

Users have the right to be able to access the information and services provided on a web site regardless of their technological, physical or intellectual ability.

How to provide for this right:

Developers should ensure that their web presence is accessible to people with disabilities, including those who use assistive technologies. Almost every aspect of a web presence must be addressed in this respect and developers should look to complying with the guidelines set out by the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative.

Wherever possible developers should provide sites easily accessible for users regardless of which client-side technologies or hardware they use, or what connection speed or 'bandwidth' they enjoy.

Right to Personal Autonomy

A user should be free to use a website according to their own preferences and requirements.

How to provide for this right:

Make the user interface as flexible as possible. Developers should strive to discover what user's requirements are and design around these needs. The paths to what the user wants to achieve should be efficient, and a clear navigation structure is essential to this end. The user must be facilitated to make and undo changes and to recover quickly from any errors made.

Right to make Informed Decisions

The user should be furnished with all appropriate information, in a way that they will understand, for the performance of tasks on the website.

How to provide for this right:

Sites must be designed in a way that assists rather than confuses the user. Users should at all times be aware of their current location and their potential courses of action. The meaning and purpose of all elements and controls must be readily obvious. Informative error messages are essential.

Providing helpful 'About Us', 'Terms and Conditions', 'Security' and other appropriate sections, can help support the decision-making process. The user should also be informed about the estimated duration of registration and loading processes (Flash, applets and so on).

Right to Freedom of Expression

The user has the right to express their satisfaction, disappointment or make any other comments about a web presence.

How to provide for this right:

Developers must provide a facility whereby the user can give feedback - and should respond to this feedback as quickly as possible. This facility may also incorporate the provision of adequate customer support, depending on the complexity and nature of the service or product provided.

Right to Privacy

The user has the right to have their personal information treated with respect and kept securely.

How to provide for this right:

Developers must set out their privacy policies in clear terms: what information they collect, what it will be used for, whether they will disclose that information (and to who), what security arrangements are made to keep that information safe, and how the user can gain a copy and amend or request deletion of that information.

Users must never be targeted with 'spam' mail - email addresses must only be used for the purposes agreed to by the user.

Right to "Freedom from Frustration"

Users should not be subjected to site elements that will frustrate, annoy and confuse them.

How to provide for this right:

Page download times and moving elements should be kept to a minimum. Flash, applets, and other plug- in technologies should be used sparingly and only when appropriate. Sites must never compromise browser functionality and should enable the user to remain in active control of the online experience.

Sites must be as simple as possible in order to assist users in task completion. Graphic-heavy sites and lengthy, convoluted text should be avoided unless central to the purpose of the site. Users should be free from distractions, such as pop-up windows, during their visit to the site.

Contribute to the charter
The charter above is a living document - if you have any suggestions for improvements or additions to our User Charter, let me or my colleagues at know..

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