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Web Site Usability: A Designer's Guide (Interactive Technologies) Paperback – 5 Jan 1999


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Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Morgan Kaufmann (5 Jan 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 155860569X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1558605695
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 17.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,640,651 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"All these sites, while obviously trying to sell products, also provide information." Read the first page
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 7 Feb 1999
Format: Paperback
A book that appears to be an expanded 30-page usability report. It's good on the analysis approach and results from looking at six sites, but it fails to distill the results into usability guidelines to suit different web site types. The lack of depth beyond the analysis has caused the authors to pad out the book with a numbing amount of repetition of their findings. If you want guidelines you're better off starting with Nielsen's heuristics and adapting them to your web site type.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 14 July 2000
Format: Paperback
This is a book which leaves a strong impression about the importance of navigation. Usability studies are essential because they tell us what the customer wants when visiting a web site. I rate it a five star book because it contains information that makes a real difference when planning the layout of a web site. The message is consistent throughout and leaves a clear picture of how you can apply the findings. A particularly good choice for anybody new to web design.
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Amazon.com: 34 reviews
81 of 84 people found the following review helpful
Massive overgeneralization based on limited observations 8 Aug 1999
By smartin2@us.ibm.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
When Jared Spool's Web Site Usability: A Designer's Guide was published, I was so interested that I packed it as carry-on reading for my vacation. I had found very few published accounts of empirical studies of web usability issues, and was anxious to compare notes with a fellow professional's web research methods and findings. The book is a quick read, so by the time the plane landed, I was thoroughly disappointed. Mr. Spool sets high expectations in the early pages with these three humble claims: that his book presents "groundbreaking research on web site usability;" that this research "provides actual data - not opinions - about what makes web sites usable;" and that his results are "really cool scientific findings." But the book fails on all three counts.
Because the authors neglect to describe their research methods up front, the first errors the reader will notice are problems of logic, definition of terms, and overgeneralizations based on limited observations. The first chapter presents a set of "major implications," each of which is meant to debunk some common-sense idea of web design; for example, Implication 1 is "Graphic Design Neither Helps Nor Hurts." However, the reader who tries to follow the logic behind the titillating assertions will find it mortally flawed. In this example, a little digging reveals a misunderstanding of the meaning of graphic design, which the authors interpret as the quantity of picture elements in a given web page or site. This misinterpretation leads them to conclude that if a site with few pictures (described as a "nearly 'design-free zone'") fares better with subjects than do other sites with many pictures, it is because graphic design is unimportant.
Some of the conclusions are directly contradicted by reported results. The authors conclude, for example, that "The more white-space there was on a site, the less successful users were at finding information." Yet Edmund's, which uses white space very effectively for visually separating the various informational categories, was ranked best for ease of finding information.
The research methodology is mentioned only very briefly, toward the end of the book. Even then, the little information offered is enough to raise serious questions about what is not revealed. Here is a sampling of the facts I could glean: The researchers did not consider the sites' intended audiences when selecting subjects to evaluate them. The sites examined were aimed at vastly differing audiences ranging from kids (Disney) to durable-goods comparison shoppers (Edmund's) to small business owners (Inc.). Yet a single group of subjects was chosen to represent all the sites' users in the testing.
Test tasks did not necessarily resemble likely end-user tasks, and the purposes of the sites were disregarded. Obviously, the effectiveness of a site should be evaluated in the context of the reasons for the site's existence. One site may be designed to facilitate the users' speedy navigation to information the user is seeking out, while another may intentionally divert users to certain pages to attempt to sell impulse items. It is not meaningful to compare these two types of sites on the same criteria.
The test data are a sloppy combination of between- and within-subject ratings. The authors explain that "...each [subject] tested as many web sites as possible in [the three-hour time allotment] (no [subject] tested all the sites)." The ratings tables do not include the number of observations used to calculate each "average" rating score. No variables were held constant across sites. Therefore, the reasons asserted for any differences between sites' ratings are strictly conjecture on the part of the researchers. Even more distressing than methodology described are the questions left unanswered. These include some as basic as: How many subjects participated in the testing? What incentives were used to motivate the subjects' participation? What were the demographics of the subjects?
The most valuable piece of information in this book is the one uncharacteristically candid remark tucked away in the Foreword: "...no one should accept our reasoning without question." Subtract the two final words of this statement, and you will have a pithy summary of my review.
77 of 83 people found the following review helpful
Poorly researched, poorly presented, and 3 years late. 4 Oct 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is a very poor attempt to provide advice on designing web sites. Right up front you should note that although this book has a publication date of 1999, the research was done in 1996. In Internet time that is a lifetime ago. A typical user in 1999-2000 is much more experienced using the internet than a user from 1996.
None of the web sites that they used for their study look anything like what they did at the time of the study. In fact, they failed to get pictures of one of the web sites (from the 1996 Olympics) which was no longer available when they got around to writing this book. In most cases, the problems that were found at web sites were corrected long before the results of this research were produced which shows that this book may have been needed in 1996 but is useless today.
No information is given to us about the people who participated in the study. Were they novice users or well experienced in using the internet? We will never know. That information, however, can be critical when trying to design a web site. The study also examined one small part of usability of a web site. How easy was it for the participants in the study to find a particular piece of information at a particular web site? But is that really the only reason that we visit a web site? Is that the only aspect of usability? And does any of this mean anything when we don't know who the participants were?
In short, this book might have been somewhat useful had it been published in 1996 but it is useless and a complete waste of money in 1999.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Lots of questions, few answers 14 Nov 2000
By aryxus - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is useful if:
1. You are involved in designing a site that is solely information-oriented.
2. You want a counter-point to Jakob Nielsen, who really has some helpful information.
3. You have a boss who doesn't know anything about the web and you want back-up documentation for your decisions.

Otherwise, this book has the following weaknesses:
1. Too many questions are asked with the answer being "we do not know why" and too many sentences beginning: "we believe, but do not know"
2. The goal was too specific: how well do users find information. This leaves out any websites designed for casual use, 'browsing', or entertainment.
3. The authors keep comparing apples to oranges. They do not usually take into account that some sites might have done better due to the type of content rather than the architecture or design.
4. There is no credence given to learned behavior (which, admittedly, Nielsen also gives short shrift).
5. It's just a TAD obvious. For example, "The better users could predict where a link would lead, the more successful they were in finding information." Well, uh, duh.
6. I don't agree with the model of testing. Users were given 4 questions they were to answer on each of 10 existing sites. Hypotheses were created from the results. However, none of the sites were amended to specifically address these hypotheses (unless, through some coincidence, the sites were updated during the process, and even then there was little before/after comparison).
7. The authors keep stressing throughout the entire book that web site usability differs from software usability. However, not once did they step back and think "maybe web site usability TESTING differs from software usability testing."
While Jared Spool is a great speaker (having seen him in person, I was very impressed with his humor and intelligence), this book leaves a lot to be desired.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Excellent debunking of common web UI design myths 1 Feb 1999
By dawumail@progarts.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
One of my challenges in dealing with clients is convincing them that design solutions for one medium rarely apply to another. Imagine trying to make a bicycle frame out of wood using the same design you'd use for steel. It's quite possible to have a wooden frame, but they look *nothing* like the steel frame.
"Web Site Usability" is excellent source of material for me when I'm trying to explain and/or justify differences in design approaches based on functional requirements. This book, which makes no pretense of being a comprehensive, academic review of theoretical methods instead presents a broad variety of *real world* attempts to solve web UI problems and then describes both the strong and weak points discovered. It is, if you will, a narrative approach to understanding the issues involved in usability design, and to a lesser extent, user interface design.
This narrative approach has proved far more helpful in dealing with the increasing numbers of non-technical folks who're being given the problem of creating interesting, usable, *and* attractive web sites than the typical academic approaches couched in jargon and steeped in rigid methodology.
Regardless of your degree of technical knowledge, reading this book will help you in establish a strong foundation for understanding usability in all its contexts.
31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Designers will hate this book. 27 April 2000
By Zephemera - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
As a long-time web developer and interface designer, I liked this book a lot. It challenges a lot of the assumptions (dogma?) of the web "design" community by taking the approach that end-users are the ones who have the most to tell us about good and bad design, not creative directors.
I had a recent experience with a designer who was invited to observe a focus group of prospective users of a large commercial real estate she had designed. She declined the invitation to attend with the following statement: "I have no need to know what people think of the design. I designed it with a specific purpose in mind, and I believe I achieved my goal. What could I learn?"
What arrogance! Well, guess what folks? The users testing the site found it confusing, hard to navigate, difficult to search, and therefore not something they'd be likely to use. I guess if her purpose was to drive people to better sites, she succeeded.
I've used techniques similar to the ones described in this book to test sites I've designed. They work! It's not always fun to hear users tell you what you've created is clumsy, confusing or downright stupid, but if you don't listen to your users and design for them, you are doomed! Don't be like the designer I mentioned above, read this book and learn something. Your sites will be better, and your users will thank you for it.
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