Web Site Accessibility and Usability

Posted in Technicalon Jul 14, 2005

Well, I’ve been learning a lot about creating usable web sites. There is so much to consider. Persons with color deficient vision, or persons needing high-contrast text, blind persons, persons with mobility problems who can’t use a mouse well, and on and on. I’m convinced that our new Chemistry department web site will finally allow all these people to effectively use our web site.

Information Architecture is a much bigger deal than I thought it would be. When organizing information, there is a organizational scheme, and organizational structure. The scheme refers to how items are grouped together, while the structure refers to how these groups relate to each other. I’m mostly concerned with scheme right now, because the new Chemistry web site content management framework was developed around a hierarchical structure.

There are a couple standard sheme types. Some schemes are exact, like ordering things alphabetically — its very obvious what category (letter) a piece of information would go. Others are more ambiguous, because there might be some information which could fit into more than one group. Ambiguous scheme types are of more interest to me because it is a more natural way of thinking. Some of these ambiguous scheme types are:

  • Topical. The phone book is the best example of this. Do you have a tooth ache? You open the yellow pages up to a topic having do to with teeth: “Dentist or Dentistry.”
  • Task-oriented. eBay is a good example. Do you want to buy, sell, or look at your user account? Information is served up based on what you want to do.
  • Audience-specific. HP has an example of this on their web site. Are you a small business or a governement entity? Information is served up based on who you are.
  • Metaphor-driven. Which folder did you save that word document? Here information is organized based on a file and folder metaphor.

This is just only the beginning of what I’ve learned. I’ve also learned why link sorting is important, how to choose good labels for links and pages, what navigation menus should be displayed where, and how to conduct research.

That’s been the biggest thing that I’ve read and learned: research. Each book I’ve read has talked about theory and concepts, but they say in order to get a true idea of what to do, you have to do research with real users.

Most of the ideas posted here were from a book I’ve read Information Architecture for the World Wide Web. I highly suggest reading it if you have interest in organizational schemes. Please use the Amazon link if you wish to buy this book, so I can get a small commission for referring you.

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