Youthtopia's 26 Principles of Usability
About Web Usability
In his bestselling book Designing Web
Usability: The Practice of Simplicity (1999), Jakob
Nielsen coined the phrase "Home-Run Websites". The term means:
"websites that get repeat traffic from loyal users". He makes the
essentials easy to remember with an acronym for H-O-M-E.
Nielsen's principles are still valid, but six years have passed.
I've updated his ideas with three more ideas: an acronym for
Minimal download time
Ease of use
RSS enabled (any XML feeds)
Uses XHTML and CSS
Nice to look at
Web Usability might be defined as the art and science of
answering four essential questions:
A. Who will be reading the website?
B. What elements or features are needed?
C. How should each of these elements/features look?
D. Where should each of these elements/features be placed?
Based on these questions, my own experience, and works on
Usability by Jakob Nielsen and Steve Krug, here are 26 Usability
Principles that make sense to me. Nielsen is a usability pioneer,
to be sure; but as the web grows, his ideas (like everyone's)
should be re-examined. At times he seems to advocate sameness in
A world of web sites that all look like clones of Amazon.com?
... That's not for me. Web sites should be easy to use and yet
unique, both in content and in style.
Youthtopia's 26 Usability Principles
- Provide high-quality content.
- Separate structure and presentation by making well-formed
XHTML pages, and then styling them with CSS.
- Be sure that the page's title and subtitle tell the reader --
clearly and immediately -- what the site is about.
- Write in brief chunks, because most readers scan web pages
rather than read them. Yet keep in mind that the human mind is
capable of understanding far more than a PowerPoint Presentation.
Write naturally -- not in short chunks -- whenever the natural
style is appropriate. Subheadings with larger type can be used to
organize and highlight key ideas in long passages.
- Update often, but not so often that the reader can't keep
- Keep each web page's download time around 10 seconds per page
or less (based on a 56K modem) -- which means a maximum of 50 KB
per page. (This limit may rise with the spread of
- Add an RSS or XML feed link to each home page.
- Links to "Contact Us" and "About Us" should be placed on the
- A navigation bar should be used, either across the top or on
the left or right side of each page. Determine some effective way
to tell the reader the trail-hiking equivalent of "You are
- A search box should appear on the home page, "above the
fold": on the visible part of the page if the web page extends to
more than one screen.
- Large sites should have well-organized, tree-structured site
- Make reading easier by including lots of white space on each
- The text on the page should not be smaller than 12 px. The
text color should be black, or a color that contrasts effectively
with the background color. The text-size units should be
expressed in pixels rather than points, so that the reader can
use his/her browser to change the size.
- For body text on a computer screen, the easiest fonts to read
are sans-serif fonts, such as Verdana, Arial, Helvetica.
- A printer friendly style sheet should be linked to each page,
so it will print effectively, without including the unnecessary
graphics and navigation bars.
- The print style sheet should be designed so that the URLs
under the links are printed.
- Links should look like links. Don't make readers wonder: Is
this a link?
- Use pullquotes to give the reader the essence of the
article/story in one or two sentences.
- The site should have a blend of two kinds of content: fresh,
- All images should have "alt" tag added.
- Include nothing unimportant. Place everything essential
"above the fold".
- Remember these "Seven Deadly Sins of Web Design" ... Sites
should never: (1) use frames; (2) be so wide that they need to be
scrolled left to right; (3) automatically play music; (4) require
plug-ins; (5) have a splash page; (6) omit about and contact
information; (7) use text too small to be easily read.
- If advertisements are included, they should be clearly
distinguished from content.
- When small photos are reduced from large photos, these should
be cropped so that main subject is highlighted, and not too
small. (This savvy tip is from a recent article by Nielsen).
- If PDF files are included on the page for download, provide
instructions to the user that tells a) it is a PDF file; and b)
how to download it. Otherwise, if a user clicks that link, the
PDF file will open up and could take a long time.
- Make the page look interesting and unique.
- Krug, Steve. Don't Make Me Think.
- Nielsen, Jakob. Designing Web Usability: The Practice of
- Nielsen, Jakob, and Marie Tahir. Homepage Usability.
Usability Web Sites
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