Top 10 sins for Web savvy freelancers

The guru of Web page usability, Jakob Nielson, has unveiled his top 10 Web design mistakes of 2005, empowering internet savvy freelancers to ditch the ‘design stupidities’ that irked users the most within the last 12 months.

Top of Nielson’s hit list, advocated by readers of his newsletter, is the use of bad fonts, small fonts or ones that show a low contrast between text and background.

Solutions to the problem lie in the ability to let users take control of font size, effectively allowing them to enlarge text or change it to their viewing preference.

“After all,” Nielson says, “it’s my screen my computer, and my software, and they should do what I say.”

Such legability problems caused internet users to complain more than twice as much as Web design stupidity no.2, which resides in the domain of inserting non-standard links.

These should clearly stand out to the site user, so texts that are non-linkable are displayed without colour or underlining, while there linkable counterparts should be in blue and underlined.

Only PDF files should open in new windows, the advice states.

However, all inserted links should explain what users can expect to find at the other end, yet text invites like ‘click here’ should be avoided.

“Links are the Web's number one interaction element,” advises Nielson.

“Violating common expectations for how links work is a sure way to confuse and delay users, and might prevent them from being able to use your site,” he says.

Web design blunder no. 3 goes to Flash – a once popular software, authored by Macromedia, that’s only endorsed now to offer readers additional power and features that are unavailable from a static page.

“Most of the Flash that Web users encounter each day is bad Flash...They are so bad that even the most clueless Web designers won’t recommend them,” Nielson explains.

The former engineer for Sun Microsystems adds that Flash should not be used to “jazz up” a boring Web page; rather the page should be rewritten in a more appealing style

Using Flash to make pages move simply annoys people and drives them elsewhere.

The fifth biggest irritant for online readers is the posting of content unsuitable for the Web – so designers should ensure content avoids marketing jargon and instead is short, ‘scannable’ and concise.

FAQs should strive to answer questions that website newcomers would ask, rather than the ones that developers or designers want to address.

Answers should be written in everyday language for two reasons - to help the reader confidently navigate beyond the homepage and to boost the site’s search engine visibility.

The massive growth of search technologies, often seen as the exclusive territory of big businesses like Google and Yahoo, is equally important to the realm of small business owners, Nielson suggests.

He says fixing search requires considerable work and investment, but cautions, “it’s worth doing because search is a fundamental component of the Web user experience,” and its growing in importance each year.

The seventh cardinal sin for homepage design points to another growth area – the rise of alternative Web browsers.

Championed by Firefox, the advance of differing platforms to Microsoft’s dominant Internet Explorer means webmasters must not “turn away customers just because they prefer a different platform,” Nielson explains.

Even more prolific a problem for today’s Web user is the use of long, complicated and inflexible forms that erode readers’ internet time and make them click elsewhere.

Ranking in as less of a problem but still significant for small business owners is a website’s use, or in some cases, absence of company contact information.

Well-considered ‘About Us’ categories solve this problem, but entrepreneurs should note the recommendation that offering a physical mailing address is vital because it holds more credibility.

“A company with no address is not one you want to give money to,” reads the advice.

Fixed page widths and frozen layouts are also discouraged, as is number 10 on the ‘don’t’ list of Web design that states if users click on a photo to enlarge it, then, Nielson stresses “show them a big photo.”

He says this is achieved by enlarging a photo so it fits the most common screen size used by readers, or, through offering a series of close-ups, with each approach depending on the image.

Nielson concludes: “When users explicitly ask for larger pictures, they're willing to wait for them to download - unless that wait produces a mid-sized photo that lacks the details they need to make a purchasing decision.”



 

5th October 2005

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