The answer to usable Web sites is training

It's obvious that organisations - from the very small, to the large corporates and government departments - want to be part of the "e" action, and quickly, lest they miss out. Some organisations are up to their second and third generations of Web site development, so need a more professional approach.

Skills commonly required by organisations for Web design include HTML, JavaScript, CORBA, Micro-soft Transaction Server, Lotus Notes/Domino, database schema design and Flash. These requirements have spawned a training segment in all aspects of Web development, which in many cases leads to certification qualifications.

The Hiser Group, which provides a series of courses in user interface and usability, has researched the pitfalls of bad Web design to ensure its courses meet the usability criteria. Hiser's research results point out some of the key areas in which Web sites fail.

Internet start-ups typically spend 300 times as much money on advertising the site as they spend on its usability. As a result, many of these new sites invariably fail to keep their users and will not grow into long-term successes. Venture capitalists should question the budget allocation of their portfolio companies and refuse to waste money on sites that don't have a thorough usability process in place.

Without a doubt, as Web markets become increasingly competitive, Web site ease of use will become a way to stand out from the crowd. Most sites will waste hundreds of thousands of dollars on redesigns because designers are engaged in an endless cycle of overhauls that don't fix their problems. Their goals of achieving fast performance and consistent look and feel are directionally correct, but miss out on at least 20 more specific usability objectives. Because ease of use is not measured, flaws go undetected.

Furthermore, Forrester Research, in an audit of 20 major sites, discovered that almost half the sites ignored simple design principles for usability (for example, in the areas of "is the site organised by user goals?" and "does a search list retrieve in order of relevance?").

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Merri Mack

PC World
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