Poor Usability Is Stifling the Web s Growth

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Poor Usability Is Stifling the Web's Growth

Others agree that the Web is sorely lacking in usability. When I announced that I was collecting Web bloopers for a book, one fellow responded, "Man! You are going to spend the rest of your life collecting Web bloopers."

One author provides a blow-by-blow account of the frustrating experience he had trying to buy a wrench over the Web (Casaday 2001). Unfortunately, his experience elicits sympathetic grimaces from anyone who has shopped on the Web.

More systematic surveys have found the same sad truth. A recent survey of 2000 Web shoppers found that approximately half of the people surveyed were "neutral to very disappointed" with the websites they used (Rubin 2002). A Forrester report issued in April 2002 argued that the Web represents a large step backward in usability from desktop software (Souza 2002).

Most tellingly, a survey by Consumer's Union found that two thirds of Americans distrust and avoid e-commerce websites. This is higher than the percentage of Americans who distrust the federal government or ”even in the wake of the Enron and WorldCom scandals ”large corporations. A reporter summarizing the Consumer's Union survey suggested that the problem is mainly that e-commerce web-sites are not designed in a user -centered fashion:

These sites were often designed by computer programmers.... The designers frequently attempted to draw customers with technological bells and whistles while excluding the kind of practical information-return policies, for example-that's generally easy to find in a bricks -and-mortar retail setting. ( Paul 2002 )

The bottom line is that for the general population, the Web is low in quality, confusing, aggravating, and insufficiently useful. Poor usability is a big part of the problem. To achieve its potential, the Web's usability must be improved.

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Why Write about Bloopers?

Why did I write a book about Web design bloopers? Two reasons.

First, by pointing out common design blunders and showing how to avoid them, I hope to save Web designers the pain and cost of making those mistakes themselves . As a user -interface consultant, I review many websites for clients and find the same mistakes again and again in different sites. I'd like to help the Web industry get beyond endlessly repeating the same mistakes and move on to a point where other, higher level issues are the main concern.

Second, by showing example after example of mistakes in corporate and agency websites, I hope to demonstrate how poorly designed much of the Web is and how unacceptably bad the experience of using it is for most people. I'm doing my part to help the Web industry realize that poor usability is holding back the Web's growth and success. The remedy is careful design focused on ensuring productive, enjoyable user experiences, supplemented by systematic usability testing of sites before deployment.

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What Is a Web Blooper?

This book describes usability bloopers -mistakes-that Web designers and developers often make when designing and implementing websites and Web-based applications and explains how to avoid them. The focus is on bloopers that affect usability. How a website is designed also affects many other aspects of the user experience, such as brand recognition, organizational image, aesthetics, and trust. I am not an expert regarding such issues and defer to people who are (Flanders 2001; Flanders and Willis 1997; Mullet and Sano 1995).

Many of the bloopers discussed in this book are not the fault of poor design of the website itself, but of the back end-server-side applications, servers, and databases upon which the site depends. The point of presenting such bloopers is to convince developers and their management that successful websites and Web-based applications require user-centered, task-focused design of the back -end systems and the site itself. A good website cannot be slapped onto a poorly designed back end.

The bloopers in this book do not cover all of the mistakes Web designers make, or even all of the ones I have seen. To get into this book, a design mistake had to be not only embarrassingly bad but also common. There is little value in warning website developers away from rare or site-specific mistakes, no matter how horrible they may be. On the other hand, there is great value in warning developers away from common mistakes.

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