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Governing Good Web Site Design

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troy janisch

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User since: 08 Jul 2002

Articles written: 17

Frustration is a common experience among marketers trying to judge the quality of a web site design. Everyone wants to implement the best-looking web site, but opinions of what constitutes a great site vary.

Fortunately, what constitues a good web site isn't based on opinion. It is based upon evidence.

Although the 'look and feel' of many well-conceived web sites may vary greatly, good web sites tend to share a number of characteristics. These characteristics provide the basis of the "Research-Based Web Design and Usability Guidelines" developed by the Federal Government as part of its initiative.

Research-Based Web Design and Usability GuidelinesResearch-Based Web Design and Usability Guidelines —

The Guidelines provide marketers with a good overview and deep understanding of the wide range of Web design issues that they may encounter while managing a web site. The Guidelines provide marketers with standards that can be used to judge web designs. Marketers can request that the web designers and developers they work with follow relevant portions of the Guidelines and can use the Guidelines to set priorities.

Sanjay J. Koyani, a senior usability specialist for the HHS Web Management Team, said the government currently offers 187 research-based guidelines and plans to add nearly 50 more guidelines in 2004.

While the number of guidelines can seem daunting, provides a tool developed in cooperation with AARP that allows site visitors to sort guidelines based on their overall relevance and the amount of supporting evidence. This means its possible to identify and focus on the most important guidelines for success.

For example, the four guidelines that score highest in both relevance and supporting evidence include:

  • Use an Iterative Design Approach

    Designs should be tested with site visitors before they are implemented. Use paper prototypes to test the design and make revisions to the design based on your findings.
  • Provide Useful Content

    While it seems common sense. It's not uncommon for sites to contain a company's sales pitch instead of the information that site visitors are looking for. Studies have reported that content is more important than navigation, visual design, functionality, and interactivity.
  • Ensure Visual Consistency

    Design creativity must be balanced with consistency. Studies show that tasks performed on more consistent interfaces resulted in: reduced task completion times; fewer errors; higher user satisfaction; and a shorter learning time.
  • Use Black Text on Plain, High-Contrast Backgrounds

    Use white text on dark backgrounds sparingly. People read black text on a white background up to 32 percent faster.

As of September, 2004, the Guidelines will also be available in HTML instead of as a series of PDF-based files. The site will also offer subscriptions to a new monthly newsletter focusing on web design and usability research/finding.

"We want to raise the bar in what people expect from their own web site," said Janice Nall, manager of the Usability Solutions Group in the Office of Electronic Government and Technology for General Services Administration (GSA). "The guidelines provide project managers with the criteria and expectations they need to make design decisions based on the facts."

"When you make good design decisions early, you prevent a lot of potential problems."

Troy Janisch is president and founder of Icon Interactive™, an industry leader helping companies integrate Internet and other Interactive media into sales channels, marketing strategies, and overall branding. He can be contacted by email at

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