Articles

Usability and Intuitive Design - Improving the User Experience

By Don Demrow, 2007-08-12

Great design is essential to a superlative website, portal, or application. By applying principles of usability, accessibility, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and good branding in conjunction with aesthetic excellence, it is possible to improve profitability.

A good online experience will have a positive impact on your company's bottom line. When the focus of an interface is to facilitate a pleasant online experience for the user, (often referred to as an "actor" in User Interface, or UI design) and allow the user to accomplish the goal they had in mind, we greatly improve the chances of retaining a user, who is very likely a customer - possibly, a PAYING customer.

This is one very simple secret to good design - a well-designed, truly usable interface - one that compels the user to act in accordance with the wishes of the designer, in an intuitive manner, in a way that seems natural to the user. The well designed website, portal, or application will SUGGEST to the user what to do next in accomplishing their goal. This is known as "Affordance."

A good example of affordance is this: If a faucet handle is designed in a manner that obviously fits the hand, and by its design suggests that TURNING it, the water will flow out of it, this is affordance. Further, if it is made intuitive by its design which DIRECTION to turn it to make the water flow, that is an even better example of affordance in action.

These days, customer service is virtually a thing of the past. Whether that is because it is no longer seen by companies as important, or because it has simply been forgotten, like good manners, the fact remains: rare indeed are companies that offer customer service anymore - and they do not empower their employees that interface with customers anymore. This is one very important reason why usability and good interface design is so important.

Look at the formula below:

customer service + ergonomics = usability

We can see that usability can be thought of as a modern day implementation of the principles of customer service (care given to the user experience), combined with applied ergonomics (good interface design).

Good User Interface (UI) design is a balance of organization, technology, art, and usability. Effective application of the Web Design System Development Life Cycle (SDLC) provides the organization. The art and technology pieces of the puzzle are determined by the needs of the client, but the usability component is determined by a team that consists of:

  • A usability-enlightened designer and developer (may be the same person)

  • The person, or persons that are requesting the interface or application, herein referred to as the initiators

  • A group of test users, ideally 5 or 6 people.


The designer/developer, if experienced in usability and principles of good UI design, will be able to provide guidance to the initiators. The initiators are usually persons in a business analyst role, or in an executive role. The experienced designer/developer or project team leader will begin the process of gathering requirements from the initiators, and has now begun the System Development Life Cycle.

It is incumbent upon the designer/developer to be proficient enough to translate the requirements into wireframes, mockups, and prototypes. This begins with the iterative DESIGN phase - the "sub-cycle" of design - review - revision. This is the first phase of what I refer to in my article on the Web Development SDLC as "pigtail" progression - a circular iteration superimposed on a linear progression.
(See http://archive.devweb...)

It is important to note that the group of test users needs to be brought into the process right at the beginning of the SDLC, and during the design phase, it is crucial that the test group be involved. (Although an in-depth look into performance testing is beyond the scope of this article, I plan to write a future article on this topic soon.)

After the initiators approve a final design, we are able to enter the development, prototype test/approval, and launch phases.

Again, the "pigtail" progression of iteration applies here - AND, again, the test users are needed in these phases, although their involvement is not as critical as in earlier stages of the SDLC. If the design and development is advancing as it should be, the amount of input necessary to be offered by the usability test group should be diminishing - in fact, the need for test team input should be inversely proportionate to the development timeline. In other words, if the SDLC has done what it should, and if all the participants in the process have fulfilled their roles, you will wind up with an aesthetically pleasing, intuitive, well-designed application that will be a pleasure to use.

About the Author:
Don Demrow specializes in usability, web design and development of database driven websites, portals, applications, content management systems, corporate intranet applications, and search engine strategy (SEO) for corporate, small business, church, synagogue, and other non-profit organizations.






SEO - The Importance of Relevance in Search Engine Optimization


By Don Demrow, 2007-11-15

I've told countless designers and developer this: The foundation of good SEO is RELEVANCE.

No matter how hard you try to fool the search engines, the bottom line is, if you want to be found for "UI and SEO," then WRITE about "UI and SEO!"

I've heard it all my life - cheaters never win, and winners never cheat.

The major search engines, especially Google and Yahoo have logic in their classification algorithms that can determine whether or not content is really about what your meta tags say.

If your meta description and keywords tags have "UI and SEO," peppered liberally throughout them, but the content does not support the context of the terms, then the webmaster must ask - what is the point of trying to fool the search engines?

This context-based categorization is referred to as "Latent Semantic Indexing."

Write about a subject, and your articles and web pages will be indexed by the search engines. Write good, compelling content, and your articles and web pages will be prominently indexed by the search engines.

The bottom line: Play by the rules. Don't try to cheat.

When we all play clean, we all win... After all, how long do you think someone will stay on your site if they have searched for "cars" and your website is about puppies?

If you do just one thing to increase your Search Engine status, remember: make it RELEVANT!

About the Author:
Don Demrow specializes in usability, web design and development of database driven websites, portals, applications, content management systems, corporate intranet applications, and search engine strategy (SEO) for corporate, small business, church, synagogue, and other non-profit organizations.






SDLC - The System Development Life Cycle Of Web Development

Problem:
The design / development "process" that is in place at many organizations is no process at all, which results in multiple costly revisions, and a tendency toward non-adherence to any established standards or conventions, if in fact, such standards and conventions even exist.

Objective:
To adopt a process of iterative "pigtail" progression to accomplish expedient, efficient design and development on future projects. This refers to a cyclical revision process contained inside a linear progression, illustrated as a curly line, or "pigtail."

This process will facilitate transparent communication to establish effective interaction and dialogue between all parties involved in the conception, design, development, approval, testing, implementation, and revision process of websites and applications.

Solution:
Establishing a systematic approach for design and development of new websites and online applications will save time and money. Applying a System Development Life Cycle model is the most efficient way to do this.

If roles, standards, objectives, and expectations are clearly defined through the process, from beginning to end, there can be little confusion as to who was supposed to accomplish a given task.

We must define the following questions prior to any design or development:

  • Who - Who will design, develop, approve, test, launch, review / revise.

  • What - Scope. What exactly do we need to accomplish? What is the ROI?

  • Where - Will this be an internal tool, or a public-facing B-to-B application or site?

  • When - Reasonable deadlines.

  • Why - Why build it? Will this site or application save time / money? Generate leads?

  • How - Implementation and presentation - What is appropriate? Will we do this with Server-side code? Static HTML? Flash? How will it look? ASG Corporate? Modern? Business-like?



Definition of Roles

The "Who" part of the process would be designated by the managers, or leaders of the design and web teams. (Example: "Matthew will design the flash introduction, Mark will design the page layout, and Luke will cut graphics, and code the application.")

Likely, the initiator of a project would define What, Where and When. (Example: "We would like a lead automation system, by end off fiscal 2007. It will be an internal tool, but with a public-facing component, which will be the lead form. We wish to capture leads and get them into our existing AS400 database.")

"Why" would be a brief explanation of the business objective, and any business pains remedied.

(Example: "It takes hundreds of hours to enter leads manually, and it is too slow. By the time we contact everyone, they have already purchased software from a competitor.")

How Technology: defined by web team, presentation defined by design team and web team.

(Example: "Flash for introduction, ASP or coldFusion with a SQL Server Database.")

Website / Application Requirements Outline

1. Analysis / Requirements-Gathering

    A. Define Overall scope definition

(Examples: "We need an online application that will allow users to lookup their order status, and add to their order," or "We need a website for our new product family.")

This stage is NOT an open forum for users to become designers. However, "Storyboard" or "Cocktail napkin" preliminary designs should be welcomed at this stage.

During this stage, parties requesting the website or web application should be solicited for information about the business objective they are trying to achieve.

Input should be restricted to a formal Site/Application Requirement Form. (Preferably, online)


    B. Define Sign-off Authority / (Final Approval Point-of-Contact)

It is essential that the final "sign-off" authority be named in the requirement specification document.

2. Design - This begins the iterative process of:

    A. Review - Is it graphically appealing, and appropriate for the intended purpose?

    B. Revision

3. Design Approval

At this point, the design is locked. "Scope creep" is very costly in terms of time and money. At this point, the specification is locked - additional features will be addressed in future revisions. This is necessary to keep development time and cost on track.

4. Development

    A. Review - Does it satisfy business objectives and requirements?

    B. Revision

5. Prototype Test / Approval

    A. Review - Final management review prior to launch. Does it perform to specifications?

    B. Revision - Final revision for this version.

6. Launch - The site or application goes live. (Final approved version, set in step #3, and any last-minute, "finishing touches" were applied in step #5.)

7. Review / Revise - an iterative process - can be thought of as a sub-cycle through the SDLC. Notice that this is much the same as items 2 and 4, but applies to the entire process, rather than just one aspect of the SDLC.

Lather, rinse, repeat. :)

End of this version, beginning of new version.

One iteration of the review and revision cycle

About the Author:
Don Demrow specializes in usability, web design and development of database driven websites, portals, applications, content management systems, corporate intranet applications, and search engine strategy (SEO) for corporate, small business, church, synagogue, and other non-profit organizations.






Design and the Interface

Good design is a cross between art and efficiency - a blending of principles that could be thought of as analogous to customer service plus ergonomics.

The most important thing in UI design for commercial business is that a prospective customer does not get so discouraged with the interface that they give up - the interface must be usable. There's no profit in partial transactions.

Statistics show that if a user has to wait more than eight seconds for an website to fully render, they will most likely leave. In many cases, it's far less than eight seconds.

Further, it doesn't matter how good your user interface is, if nobody can find it - an aggressive Search Engine Optimization (SEO) plan is essential to any company that hopes to be successfully engaged in business five years from now.

About the Author:
Don Demrow specializes in usability, web design and development of database driven websites, portals, applications, content management systems, corporate intranet applications, and search engine strategy (SEO) for corporate, small business, church, synagogue, and other non-profit organizations.






What are UI, UX, GUI, UCD, and HFE?

UI is "User Interface" and is simply the name given to what a user (or "actor" as referred to in the world of usability) interacts with in the application. There are logical elements that are integral to the UI, and there are graphic elements to the design - this is where the term GUI or "Graphical User Interface" comes from.

UX is "User Experience" and is the term used to describe the interaction that a user (actor) has while in a system. Since "experience" is highly subjective, since it is largely based on that user's perceptions, and expectations of what the system should do.

Those designers and developers such as myself, who are devoted to a good user experience, keenly interested in improving the user experience, thus improving interactivity, which translates to business transactions successfully completed.

UCD means "User Centered Design," and represents a conceptual milestone in the field of usability - simply by its existence, the term suggests that User Centered Design is, in fact, gaining the recognition it deserves.

HFE stands for "Human Factors Engineering," and is, quite simply, the science of how humans interact with systems. It involves HCI, or Human / Computer Interaction.

You can read my "Usability and Intuitive Design" article here, or download it in MS Word here. (document size: 42KB)

About the Author:
Don Demrow specializes in usability, web design and development of database driven websites, portals, applications, content management systems, corporate intranet applications, and search engine strategy (SEO) for corporate, small business, church, synagogue, and other non-profit organizations.






Our SEO/SEM philosophy

We only engage in what are known as "white hat" SEO practices. There is no justification for trying to cheat the search engines - even if such practices can yield a short-term improvement in SERP (Search Engine Result Pages) ratings, "black hat" SEO techniques will, over the long term, result in being penalized by the legitimate search engines such as Google, Yahoo, MSN, Live Search/Bing, AOL, and Lycos. The bottom line is, it does not pay to try to gain an unfair advantage.

The best advice we give our clients and students is, BE RELEVANT. That will yield better search engine results than anything else! If you compose well-written text about wizzy-widgets, you will be found by users conducting searches for "wizzy-widgets."

About the Author:
Don Demrow specializes in usability, web design and development of database driven websites, portals, applications, content management systems, corporate intranet applications, and search engine strategy (SEO) for corporate, small business, church, synagogue, and other non-profit organizations.








BestProWeb in the News



Usability, UI, SEO, and Accessibility (Section 508) Links



If you have questions, or want more information, you can send us a message, or make an appointment online, or call us to schedule your appointment at (239) 300-6274.






Press Releases About Us

Naples Florida Online Marketing Firm Launch New High Tech Website - BestProWeb.com

On Monday, August 20th, BestProWeb.com unveils their new corporate website.

Online PR News - 21-August-2012 – Today, BestProWeb.com unveiled their new online presence. The new website brings BestProWeb.com a step closer to being not only more connected through the use of technology, but is also Section 508 compliant, and is W3C compliant, making the website faster, better, and more accessible than ever before - especially to those internet users who are visually impaired.

The new BestProWeb.com website offers usability enhancements, such as enlarged text, an XML-driven site map for convenient navigation to anywhere within the website, a much shorter, easier to understand contact form that triggers a confirmation of receipt email, and much more.

"We wanted a website that would be easy to navigate, aesthetically pleasing, fast-loading, and intuitive for the user," said Don Demrow, Founding Information Architect for BestProWeb.com. "We've also added some nice resources, such as links to articles, larger fonts, and a lot of improvements 'under the hood.'"

The new website uses what is referred to as a "CSS" (Cascading Style Sheets) layout that allows screen readers used by blind and visually impaired users to more effectively navigate the website.

"While we're a relatively small firm, we have had a lot of experience, and we're perfectly comfortable taking on work from small mom-and-pop family-owned businesses all the way to fortune 500 corporations - we've done many of both, and everything in between," continues Demrow. "We have this expression - it's 'Onward. Upward.' It expresses our primary goal, which is to advance and elevate our clients' business objectives through effective online marketing - a major part of which is their website, and our customized SEO campaign. We work hard to build an online presence for our clients, and we are aggressive in our efforts to get them found online."

This press release can be seen on in its original location at www.onlineprnews.com...






Award-Winning Marketing Professional Starts South Florida-Based Web Agency with Emphasis on Ethics

Web designer and developer Don Demrow has opened an independent web design firm targeting elite businesses - everything from local area small businesses to large corporations - BestProWeb.com.

NewswireToday - /newswire/ - Bonita Springs, FL, United States, 08/20/2012 - "We're about helping companies stand out in the crowd," Demrow declares. "Our primary focus is on businesses that have exceptional potential, or are already highly successful - but the common thread is, they all have that 'something', or 'x-factor' that makes them different and better than their competitors. We've taken start-up companies, and helped them go from day one, zero dollars, to being multi-million dollar companies within 2 to 3 years. They have the drive and ambition, and we provide them with the online presence, and search engine strategies to get them noticed. Further, we do everything ethically. No tricks, no 'black-hat' practices, no link farms, no offshore spam email campaigns. We're selling relevance."

Demrow brings with him over fourteen years of award-winning website design and development experience, in addition to many years of UI (User Interface) and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) experience and expertise.

Demrow has designed and developed web interfaces and applications for members of The United States House of Representatives, various federal, state, county, and municipal agencies, television networks, political parties, retail stores, and Fortune 500 corporations including Citi and Microsoft. Demrow's most recent two projects in SW FL have been creating the online presence for Fort Myers law firm Viles & Beckman, and the only AACD accredited Cosmetic Dental clinic in the Naples area, Park Family & Cosmetic Dentistry.

Dr. Long, of Park Family & Cosmetic Dentistry credits Demrow with keeping their practice in the top 5 search engine results, consistently on page one of all the major search engines. Dr. Long continues,"Our practice has experienced incredible growth due to the website Don and the guys at BestProWeb.com has created for us, and the SEO program they put in place for us."

Additionally in 2012, Demrow created a new website for a Nevada-based national financial firm, and has performed extensive work correcting existing defective code on websites for several East Coast vacation rental companies.

Demrow states,"I've been looking to go fully independent, and start my own agency in Florida for quite some time - This reminds me of when I was a cofounder of 78square in Madison WI, back in 2002 - it's exciting to be able to help other businesses, and to let them be the beneficiaries of my years of experience."

"I try to market my services to best-in-class businesses," Demrow continues. "These are companies that do everything with incredible attention to detail, and an obsessive commitment to excellence - that matches with my personal philosophy of business. The members of these companies are industry leaders, or well on their way to becoming industry leaders - I am honored to be a part of their success."

"These companies are run by people that are savvy enough to understand what BestProWeb.com is about, and what we're doing for them," he continues. "Sometimes they're mega-corporations, but sometimes they're not - in March, I was working on a website for the largest provider of instant, online payment processing in the North America, but my next project is for a small, but very successful family-owned business that makes fun, personalized bandanas and blankets for dogs. It's not about the size of the business, or even their revenue - it's about drive, focus, ambition, and whether or not I see that 'something special' in the company's management."

Demrow began his web design and development career in Munich, Germany in early 1997 after attending UMUC in Bad Aibling, Germany. He is known as a staunch supporter of accessibility issues, compliance standards, and usability - the scientific application of standards and practices to website design that closely mirror ergonomics in physical objects.

Demrow's designs have earned him awards such as the IAWMD Golden Web Award for best corporate design for his website design and development of the GeoAnalytics website, the coveted "German Internet Oscar" for his work on the German website "Gute Zeiten / Schlechte Zeiten" - (Good Times, Bad Times), and awards for GIS (Geographical Information Systems) user interface designs, among others.

Early in his career, Demrow was instrumental in creating and maintaining the number one ranked German Formula One racing website in the world.

From 2008 to 2010, Demrow was Vice President of HFE (Human Factors Engineering) at Citicards, working on projects directed at solving user interface problems, one of which was the aggressive ADA/Section 508 program he headed up while there. In 2010, Demrow accepted the position of Director of Marketing and Media at a prominent Florida law firm, where he remained until Q2 of 2012.

Section 508 is the portion of the Americans with Disabilities Act that deals with accessibility issues faced by unsighted users of technology. Demrow's work has been instrumental in allowing unsighted customer service representatives to perform the same job as sighted customer service representatives using customer service software tools at the bank's credit card division.

Demrow predicts that BestProWeb.com will be creating internet graphic user interfaces and code for cutting-edge websites and online applications that are expected to revolutionize the online experience across many industries.

This press release can be seen on in its original location at www.newswiretoday.com... and www.przoom.com...





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