Books and Publications
Assocations and Departments
Standards and Legislation
Design Strategy Tips

Books and Publications

Associations and Departments


  • Ron Baecker Professor at the University of Toronto, known for his research in tele-presence
  • Jakob Nielsen Best known for “discount usability engineering”
  • Donald Norman Author and designer, well known for his work on designs in the real world
  • Ben Shneiderman Often spoken of as the “grandfather of usability”
  • Lucy Suchman Known for her application of ethnomethodology to technical systems
  • Bruce “Tog” Tognazzini Famous for his webzine column on user interface design, “Ask Tog”

Standards and Legislation

  • W3C World Wide Web Consortium, an international consortium that develops web standards and guidelines
  • WAI Web Accessibility Initiative, from the W3C, develops resources to help organizations make the web accessible to people with disabilities
  • WCAG Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, produced by the WAI, a set of international guidelines for creating accessible websites
  • Common Look and Feel Standards for Government of Canada websites (aligned with WCAG)
  • AODA Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, from the Ministry of Community and Social Services in Ontario, Canada
  • PIPEDA Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act of Canada
  • Section 508 US accessibility requirements for information technology

Design Strategy Tips

Write Great Recovery Messages

If they do get into an error situation, help end-users to recover gracefully. Use the following formula to compose a meaningful recovery message:

  • State the problem
  • State the cause of the problem
  • State the solution and any implications
  • Ask a specific question
  • Label buttons to answer the question

Define Smart Defaults

Support end-users to work efficiently by choosing smart defaults. Supplying no default forces users to stop, search, and select. A bad default is often worse than no default because it may be overlooked. System defaults that cannot be changed frustrate end-users. Consider:

  • What will most users choose most of the time in this situation?
  • What did the user choose last time?
  • What is the user trying to do now? Next?
  • Ask whether to update the system default.

Make Use of Conventions

End-users will apply previous experience in their use of your product, relying on well-established conventions for navigating and interacting. If your product makes use of conventions it will be predictable and easier to use. Avoid the urge to create a “new and improved” interaction control; instead, focus your creative efforts on streamlining processes and honing content.

Get Rid of Tabs

Tabs invite mediocrity. A user interface that structures choices and tasks on tabs (especially more than 3 and particularly multiple rows of tabs!) is highly suspect for serious usability problems. Designing a user interface with no tabs at all means that thought is put into the structure of functionality and the workflow of tasks that end-users will perform. And this is where the greatest gains in usability can be realized.

Include More White Space

Grouping information using boxes with built-in labels may be handy, but boxes and lines add needless clutter. The extra lines interfere with scanning and reading, particularly when boxes are nested within boxes. Instead, use white space to create separations; add labels only where necessary. This layout approach reduces clutter and lets the information stand out.

Take Guesswork Out of Dates

Dates are very important but often indecipherable. There is only one date format that is unambiguous, short, and meaningful to people around the world. An example is 10 Nov 2005. Another example is 10-Nov-2005, which holds together well, or Nov 2005 if the day doesn’t matter, or Tue 10 Nov 2005 if the day really does. Any of the following date formats make end-users think too much: 11-10-05, 11.10.05, 11/10/05 (is that Oct 11 or Nov 10?). Any variation on those with a full year (10-11-2005) is only slightly better. Date formats with the year first (2005-11-10) are great for machines but not for humans.

The “Typical User” Does Not Exist

It is impossible to characterize the “typical” or “average” user of your product. Instead, think in terms of several classes of users. Create a fictitious character for each user class. Give the character a name, age, and rough demographic outline. Fill out the character’s personality with opinions, attitudes, experiences, and goals. Ensure that the set of “personas” have quite different characteristics. Now consider your design decisions from the perspectives of these characters. Your design will be more sophisticated and will attract approval from a wider base of end-users.

Actions Are Verbs

Help end-users to know what a button will do even before it is pressed. If you are tempted to label a button with a noun—think carefully. Nouns simply don’t do anything! Use an imperative verb or verb phrase on a button label to describe the action. Consider the question “Are you sure you want to delete all 59 songs from the Classics folder?” The answer may be “yes”, but the button labels should be Delete and Cancel . A “yes” button would force you to read carefully; a “delete” button helps you to scan and press quickly with confidence.

It’s Not OK!

An OK button places end-users in a powerless position, especially if it is the only choice. At best, it cajoles people to agree with or submit to whatever statement they just read. At worst, it forces people to accept an outcome—like loss of data—that simply is not OK! A verb such as Close is often the correct label: It empowers end-users to take a meaningful course of action. Consider adding other actions to help address the issue. Choose a verb or verb phase and avoid labels such as “OK”, “yes”, and “no”.

Schedule Time for Visual Clean-Up

The perceived quality of your product truly is affected by “minor” visual mistakes. Misaligned labels, inconsistent spacing, and quirky display fields send the wrong message about your product and organization. Consider the impact of untidy pixels, seen by all your customers, compared to a rarely occurring crash: It might even be better to put more time into correcting layout than to chase that elusive crashing bug.

Navigation Is More Than Clicking

Effective navigation supports end-users to find their own way through your product. They are often pursuing a “where is…?” question. Here is a design trick: We don’t always know the exact question being pursued, but we do know that if they can answer these questions at any point, it will help them a lot:

  • Where am I?
  • Where did I come from?
  • What can I do here?
  • Where can I go now?

There Are Many Ways to Structure Content

As a domain expert, you will know the best structure for content, right? Wrong! Domain experts structure content according to a deep understanding of it. This is often the least valuable structure for end-users who have different perspectives, curiosities, and objectives than the experts. Indeed, the most successful sources of information are structured in many different ways, to provide a variety of views and access points.






“Catching a usability problem early can significantly reduce the cost of fixing it.”

–Diane McKerlie









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