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Website usability

Jakob Nielsen's website gives the best advice on website usability. Nielsen also conducts test with groups of web users. They are given a number of tasks to complete, with a user sitting beside the tester to ask questions and record results. He says the biggest mistake is not designing sites from the user's perspective. Speed is the most important quality of any website, followed by ease of use and quality of content. For landscape architects, I would put these qualities in reverse order. Users are certain to have come to your site for a purpose and good content, not advertising, is what they will want.


Nielsen's Ten Golden Rules for Great Website Design were summarised in the Sunday Times and are interpreted below for landscape architecture. I have illustrated the points with non-UK examples .

  1. Ensure a quick download. Surfers are willing to wait about 10 seconds after clicking on a URL. After that they rove on. Slow downloads result from having large bitmap files and from having many image files on one page. Make sure that each file is as small and as compressed as possible (eg by using a jpeg optimiser).
  2. Beware cutting-edge technology. Java and Flash, for example, can provide amazing effects - but if users have to wait for a plug-in its a turn-off.
  3. Keep it calm: Marquees and running animations are pure annoyance. Showing your web design skill is tempting.
  4. Limit your frames: They cause confusion and may limit the search engines' ability to index your site. Its better not to use them at all.
  5. Choose a simple web address. Including dashes, underscores or lengthy strings just makes it difficult for people to remember your URL, to write it down or to type it in ( is a simple; . is a complete mess.)
  6. Stay up-to-date. Small scraps of stale or inaccurate information immediately might make the viewer think your entire organisation is stale and inaccurate (eg giving a telephone number as 0181 300 4000 instead of 020 8300 4000)
  7. Keep scrolling short. Only 10% of users will scroll beyond the information they see when the webpage first loads. Break this rule only with a webpage which only enthusiasts would want to read anyway.
  8. Provide a site map. All users know less about your site than you do, so give them a map. There are lots of ways of doing this but the aim is always to make visitors aware of where they can go and how to get back.
  9. Standardise your link colours. Use blue for unseen links and purple for seen pages. Don't mess with these colours - they have become a standard convention.
  10. Brand all your pages. Make sure every page says which website it belongs to. Normally you should include a link to the homepage and an email address on each page.