Maximize Web site usability

Maximize Web site usability

NIH offers tips so citizens feel at home on your home page


'Make it big, bold and simple,' advise Web site developers at the National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine.

That's how they summarize their Checklist, a glossy 16-page booklet of advice to webmasters that the two National Institutes of Health units have just released after doing site usability research.

An NIH Web team'from left, Joyce E. B. Backus, Sithipong 'J.J.' Intoronat, Kathleen Garner Cravedi, Stephanie Dailey,
Claudia Feldman, Roger W. Morrell and Jane Shure'set out to build
a checklist for what constitutes a citizen-friendly site.
NIA's chief constituency is people 60 and older'the fastest-growing category of Web users. 'The more we know about how to reach them,

the better we fulfill our mission,' said Jane Shure, the team leader and chief of the Office of Communications.

'Web gatekeepers are so different from the larger audience,' she said. Young webmasters think 'the techier, the better. Everyone wants JavaScript and animation.' But the Interactive Age Page that NIA will bring up this June, at, adheres to the Checklist's simplified design principles.

'You'll find it's very different from most Web sites,' Shure said.

'It's hard to retrofit a site,' said Stephanie Dailey, one of the developers. Instead, the team is constructing a brand-new site around four Checklist principles: simplification, organization, clarification and repetition.

'Much is repeated in different sections to increase levels of retention,' she said.

The Interactive Age Page will strive not just to post public information but also to teach medical personnel and lay visitors. Initially the topics will be Alzheimer's disease, Alzheimer's caregiving, stroke and exercise for seniors.

The site will have interactive questions and fast-loading video clips because learning from the Web 'requires an enormous amount of depth,' Shure said. 'The learning has to be broken into tiny segments.'

The site also has open captioning for Section 508 compliance. 'All usability work on the NIH campus has 508 as a component,' Dailey said. 'They should go hand in hand but don't always.'

Bobby test for 508

To test the finished site for 508 compliance, she said, the developers are considering use of the Bobby test tool from the Center for Applied Special Technology of Peabody, Mass. [GCN, Sept. 4, 2000, Page 1].

NLM developers also are applying the Checklist principles to their widely used site.

'We're not trying to impose it, but we hope the other institutes that serve older audiences will adopt the Checklist,' Shure said.

NIA's usability testers were focus groups at senior centers in Maryland and Washington that already offered courses on computer use and the Internet.

'They homed in on what works and doesn't,' Dailey said.

Shure said the effort had no special budget but was 'part of our normal jobs. It's in our best interest to do it.'

Copies of the Checklist are downloadable in Adobe Portable Document Format from Call 800-222-2225 for paper copies.

These 11 design elements on the NIH Web developers' Checklist promote easy and clear site surfing
' Sans serif, 12- or 14-point bold fonts for body text
' Consistent page design and symbols throughout
' Left-justified, double-spaced text presentation
' Instead of automatic scrolling, large buttons to go back and forth
' Dark type and graphics against light, plain backgrounds
' Icons with text as hyperlinks
' No yellow, blue or green areas close together' Open captioning for Section 508 compliance
' Short video, audio and animation segments to reduce download time
' A site map, a tutorial on site use and a telephone number for an agency contact
' Instead of pull-down menus, large buttons to access information with single mouse clicks


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