Page 1

Web Site Design is Communication Design

Document Design Companion Series document design companion series focuses on internal and external communication of medium sized to multinational corporations, governmental bodies, non-profit organizations, as well as media, health care, educational and legal institutions, etc. The series promotes works that combine aspects of (electronic) discourse — written, spoken and visual — with aspects of text quality (function, institutional setting, culture). They are problem driven, methodologically innovative, and focused on effectivity of communication. All manuscripts are peer reviewed. document design is ‘designed’ for: information managers, researchers in discourse studies and organization studies, text analysts, and communication specialists. Editors Jan Renkema Tilburg University Maria Laura Pardo University of Buenos Aires Ruth Wodak Austrian Academy of Sciences Editorial Address Jan Renkema Tilburg University Discourse Studies Group P.O.Box 90153 NL 5000 LE TILBURG The Netherlands E-mail:

Volume 2 Web Site Design is Communication Design by Thea M. van der Geest

Web Site Design is Communication Design

Thea M. van der Geest University of Twente, Enschede

John Benjamins Publishing Company Amsterdam/Philadelphia



The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences – Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ansi z39.48-1984.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Geest, Thea van der, 1955Web Site Design is Communication Design / Thea M. van der Geest. p. cm. (Document Design Companion Series, issn 1568–1963 ; v. 2) Includes bibliographical references and index. 1. Web sites--Design. 2. Business communication. I. Title. II. Series. TK5105.888 G44 2001 005.7’2--dc21 isbn 90 272 32024 (Eur.) / 1 58811 0109 (US) (Pb; alk. paper)


© 2001 – John Benjamins B.V. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, by print, photoprint, microfilm, or any other means, without written permission from the publisher. John Benjamins Publishing Co. · P.O. Box 36224 · 1020 me Amsterdam · The Netherlands John Benjamins North America · P.O. Box 27519 · Philadelphia pa 19118-0519 · usa

Table of contents

Chapter 1 From gadget to medium 1.1 Web site design becoming communication design1 1.2 Starting with the Internet1 1.3 The World Wide Web on the Internet2 1.4 Why using the web?4 1.5 From technology push to communication pull5 1.6 The same old communication questions again…6 1.7 …and a number of new questions7 1.8 Nature of this book9 Chapter 2 The web sites 2.1 Selection of web sites13 2.2 The Year of the Reader16 2.3 The Nature Conservancy18 2.4 The Electronic City Hall20 2.5 The University22 2.6 The Traffic Flow pages23 2.7 The Baseball Team25 2.8 The Internet Bookstore27 2.9 The Software Corporation29 2.9.1 The software launch30 2.9.2 The browser default start page30 2.9.3 The software products31 2.10 The case study approach33 2.11 Content of pages discussed34




Table of contents

Chapter 3 Why using the web? 3.1 Reasons to use the web39 3.2 Distributing a large amount of information41 3.3 Updating information that changes rapidly43 3.4 Reducing costs and effort45 3.5 Improving customer relations46 3.6 Updating existing information systems48 3.7 Creating a forum or community51 3.8 Showcasing technology53 3.9 Joining the crowd: ‘Me too’55 Chapter 4 The design process of web sites 4.1 Designing is deciding57 4.2 The design process58 4.3 Decisions on strategy and tactics60 4.3.1 Defining goals and target groups60 4.3.2 Inventory of resources63 4.4 Creative decisions65 4.4.1 Defining look and feel65 4.4.2 Content and information architecture68 4.4.3 Decisions on interaction and transaction70 4.4.4 Designing the technical infrastructure75 4.4.5 Detailed project planning76 4.5 Decisions in the production process79 4.5.1 Producing written content80 4.5.2 Producing graphics and sound85 4.5.3 Technical realization88 4.5.4 Quality check90 4.5.5 Approval99 4.6 Launch and maintenance100 4.6.1 Being findable100 4.6.2 Maintenance and expansion104



Table of contents

Chapter 5 Evaluating eects 5.1 Goals and topics of evaluation109 5.2 Server log data112 5.3 Cookies117 5.4 E-mail to the webmaster119 5.5 Online survey and questionnaires123 5.6 Focus groups124 5.7 Sorting tasks126 5.8 Analysis of sales and after sales data128 5.9 Evaluation in design and redesign129 Chapter 6 Web site design is communication design 6.1 Design decisions131 6.2 Checklist 1: Strategic and tactical decisions133 6.3 Checklist 2: Creative decisions and project planning139 6.4 Checklist 3: Production decisions144 6.5 Checklist 4: Approval, launch and maintenance decisions152 6.6 Checklist 5: Evaluation and re-design decisions154








Chapter 1

From gadget to medium


Web site design becoming communication design In only a few years’ time, the World Wide Web has grown from a curiosity into a standard communication means. Since its conception in 1990 and the first prototype in 1991, the web has come into general use at an amazing pace. Compared to the situation of only two or three years ago, simply having a web presence no longer guarantees that an organization’s site will attract visitors. The mesmerizing effect of the new technology and the new tricks is wearing off. Organizations are becoming aware that they have to give their visitors good reasons to visit their site and good reasons to return to it. The medium alone no longer is enough of a message. Increasingly, organizations find that the creation of web sites is not merely a hobby of their Information Systems people, but an essential part of their internal and external communication. Thus the web site and the communication policy it embodies becomes the responsibility of managers and communication people, as much as the creation and maintenance of the organization’s flyers, catalogues, commercials, annual reports or helpdesk service is. Those people will approach planning and producing a web site as a communication design process, rather than a technical design process. This book presents an overview of the activities involved in web communication design processes.


Starting with the Internet A book about the World Wide Web can not start without mentioning the Internet. The cradle of the Internet stood in the offices of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) of the United States’ Ministry of Defense. One of ARPA’s goals was to connect military computers and the agency worked together with research universities to that end. In 1969 four universities were hooked up to ARPANet, the precursor of what we now know as the Internet. The computer scientist Kleinrock at the University of California


Web Site Design is Communication Design

was the first to try to send data by making the word ‘Login’ appear on a computer screen at Stanford Research Institute (Gromov, 1995–1998): “We set up a telephone connection between us and the guys at SRI…,” Kleinrock … said in an interview. We typed the L and we asked on the phone. “Do you see the L?” “Yes, we see the L,” came the response. We typed the O, and we asked, “Do you see the O.” “Yes, we see the O.” Then we typed the G, and the system crashed”…

Data communication between computers, with each computer able to send, receive and pass on data on its own, as nodes in a network: in a few words that is what the Internet technically is. For the people who started using the Internet, it was a means to communicate (mainly by e-mail) and to exchange information (by sending and retrieving data files). Those people were mainly to be found at universities in North America and Western Europe, until the early nineties. Figure 1.1 shows the growth of the number of hosts (a computer or part of a computer that has its own Internet address) since that time. The growth rate shows that in the nineties the Internet became a widely used channel for communication. The real boost in the use of the Internet has probably been caused by an application that by now is almost synonymous with the Internet: the World Wide Web.


The World Wide Web on the Internet In 1989 researchers at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) in Geneva felt the need to use the Internet not only for ‘data communications’ and e-mail, but also to make documents located on one computer accessible for inspection or actions from other computers. Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau came up with a proposal for standards and tools that later became known as the World Wide Web. In a memo, quoted in Gromov (1995–1998, p. 4) they said it was their intention to create a “single user-interface to large classes of information (reports, notes, data-bases, computer documentation and on-line help)”. This interface should enable the many researchers around the world who collaborated in CERN projects to consult information and create links from one unit of information to another, without being bothered by the actual location of the information or by the type of machine it was on. The first WWW server (the machine that hosts and sends out information to those who demand for it) and WWW

From gadget to medium

Figure Figure 1.1. Growth of number of hosts 1969–1998 (Internet Software Consortium, 2000)



Web Site Design is Communication Design

clients (the machines that ‘demand’ for the information) were built in November 1990 and were available for testing in January 1991.

Browsers developed NCSA Mosaic, in later versions renamed into Netscape, was developed in 1993. It was the first browser that was graphic rather than text-oriented, and it became adopted for use rapidly. By allowing educational institutions to use the browser for free, Netscape got a solid basis of high-educated users, who got used to working with computers and the Internet, and went on doing so after they had left their schools and colleges. Since then, the number of people with access to the Internet and the World Wide Web has grown with an incredible speed. Several organizations try to estimate the numbers of host computers or the number of users (for more detailed Internet statistics, see the GVU User Surveys and Library of Congress Internet resources). Although they use different measures and hence come up with different numbers, they completely agree on the conclusion: The number of people with access to the Internet and the web has grown tremendously, and it will continue to grow for some time (see Figure 1.1). A rough estimation for 1998 is that 35% of the adult population of the USA has access to the Internet, with considerable percentages for other English-speaking parts of the world as well. Of the population of Finland, The Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries, 20–30% are on-line. For the Japanese- and German-speaking people this percentage is estimated to be 10 -15%. The percentages for other countries and other parts of the world are lower, but still make impressive numbers. For example, for South America it is estimated that 7.5 million Spanish-speaking and 1 million Portuguese -speaking people have access to the Internet (Global Reach, 2000).


Why using the web? All those people seem to have two major reasons to use the Internet: for getting in touch with others (e.g. by e-mail and discussion groups) and/or for finding and retrieving ‘information’. Information in fact can be almost anything: a research report, a computer game, current stock exchange data, an update of a computer program, an item in a shopping catalogue, an audio clip of a favorite pop artist, a road map to a destination. When an user wants ‘information’, the World Wide Web is the tool for finding the information and getting it (dis)played on the user’s computer.

From gadget to medium

In a 1998 user survey, 93.3% of the users reported that e-mail was indispensable for them, and 90.6% said the same for the WWW (GVU, 1998). In the same survey, the (mainly US-based) respondents also indicated what technologies they were using the web for. Figure 1.2 shows their primary uses of the web. A survey among Canadian web users inquired about the frequency of particular uses of the web (RISQ, 1997). Of the respondents in that survey, 95.8% indicated that they accessed the web at least once a week for entertainment and 95.2% said they consulted the web at least once a month to consult information related to personal interests or hobbies. The web is also frequently used for study reasons, with 65.7% of the responding students logging onto the web for their studies at least once a week. More than half of the respondents in the Canadian web survey said they consulted commercial information, such as information on products or services, at least once a week.


From technology push to communication pull Technology push It did not take individuals, businesses, and companies long to see that a potentially powerful medium for communicating with their partners and clients was available at relatively low costs. Whoever could aord a computer that could function as a WWW server, and was willing to invest some time in learning to create documents in the right format, could be up and running. The early adopters were found mainly in the high tech industry and in research. They had computers readily available and wanted to demonstrate that they were on the cutting edge of new media technology. The WWW technology pushed early adopters simply because it was available. They formed an audience of people who were interested in the technology and the tricks, willing to visit the site of other early adopters just because they were out there. Communication pull The growing number of home users and the availability of easy-to-use browser programs helped to create a critical mass of audience that must have seemed irresistible for proďŹ t and not-for-proďŹ t organizations. Around 1995, corporate WWW addresses started to appear on billboards and in advertisements in the USA. The dotcom ads were a clear sign to a broad audience that organizations could not only be found at the other end of a



Web Site Design is Communication Design

Email WWW Java/JavaScript Chat Audio Video Digital signatures Internet Phone Internet Fax 3-D Push



% Change

93.3 90.6 29.7 23.9 20.9 7.9 7.1 6.5 6.1 5.8 5.3

84.3 88.7 21.6 22.3 17.1 6. 5.2 4.7 4.3 4.5 4.5

+9. +1.9 +8.1 +1.6 +3.8 +1.9 +1.9 +1.8 +1.8 +1.3 +0.8

Figure 1.2.Primary uses of the Internet: Changes in “indispensable” technologies. (GVU, 1998)

telephone or fax connection, but also could be summoned up at the desktop computer. The more information became available on the WWW, the more people started to use it for finding an answer to their questions, a solution for their problem, a product for their demands, a person to communicate with. And the more people used the web to do all those things, the more reason organizations had to be present at the Internet. This impetus reversed the technology push into a communication pull (Figure 1.2).


The same old communication questions again… Business owners, managers, communication specialists, writers, designers, teachers, marketing specialists and many other professionals who see communicating as important for their enterprise, are now starting to explore the web from a perspective quite different from the technical perspective that prevailed in the first years of the web. As these people are getting involved in designing and developing web sites, they pose themselves questions other than the technical ones. Some of these questions sound very familiar; they have been posed for almost every attempt to address audiences and appeal to them. They belong to the field of communication and rhetoric: the study of factors that make messages effective for particular audiences in particular contexts, and of the processes in which effective messages are produced. Though the questions may be familiar, in the context of integrating the WWW in a communication policy, they have not yet been posed so often. And with such a new medium as the web, the answers are often new. What are these familiar questions when applied to the web? From the

From gadget to medium

organization’s point of view, the following communication questions should be addressed in the web site design process: – – – – – – –


What do we want our web site to do for our organization? What are the audiences we are trying to address with our site? What do our audiences expect to find or do at our site? What do we want our web site to mean for its visitors? How do we attract those people to our site? What are we going to tell them? What kind of impression do we want to make as an organization?

…and a number of new questions The nature of the web also confronts communication specialists with a number of new or changed questions.

Audiences Organizations want to reach their existing audiences through their web site, but they also want to attract new audiences. So the organization’s communication people wonder: – – –

How will our potential audiences find out about our web existence with so many competing web sites around us? How do we adapt our site to the various (international, multicultural) audiences who might find us and be interested in our information? What will the new audiences mean for our organization?

Information Organizations often present a large amount of information on the web, which creates more complex information structures. The communication specialists have to make decisions on issues such as the following: – – – –

How do we prevent our audiences from drowning in the wealth of information we (and so many others out there) offer? How do our audiences find the information we want them to find on our site? How do our audiences know they have found whatever is available? Who is going to provide, maintain and update the information?



Web Site Design is Communication Design

Modes of presentation On web pages, various modes of presentation — not only text, graphic design, pictures, but also sound, video and animation — are converging (Figure 1.3). This poses questions such as: – – –

What kind of presentation do we use for what kind of purpose, audience, content, context? How do we integrate those modes of presentation into one coherent ‘document’? How do we know our web site will be working and looking good with the various computers and programs the audiences will be using?

Interaction, transaction Web pages can contain features that enable audiences to interact with the sender or each other, or to perform transactions like ordering and paying for products. Those features were not possible for information on paper. In the design process, issues like the following have to be addressed: – – –

How can we put the interaction and transaction features to good use for our purposes and audiences? How do we integrate the convergence of means of information delivery and means of interaction or transaction? How do we integrate the web site and the communication it generates into the existing communication practices in our organization? Which new practices should we develop?

People and skills Making web pages requires a design process and skills that are different from those needed for other media. Organizations have to make design decisions like the following: – – –

Who is going to make the site, and what kinds of expertise are needed? What does effective text, illustration, sound, etc, look like for my web site? What kinds of design activities increase our chances to make our web site an effective and appealing means of communication?

It will take time before the answers of those familiar and new questions will create a ‘common sense’ of quality, developing into standards or conventions for effective and appealing web sites and pages, thus defining user expectations. But today’s web site designers and producers have no time to lose; they are developing their sites now, and want to know what to do in

From gadget to medium

Figure 1.3.Example of convergence of information delivery, transaction and interaction (Mariners, 1999)

order to make eective and appealing sites and pages. This book tries to address their needs.


Nature of this book Design process This book is about the web site and web page design process, studied as a process of deliberate decisions and activities of practitioners who want to achieve a communicative goal. It reports how designers and producers of web sites and pages worked towards an eective web site. It describes the decisions they have taken during the design process, their arguments and the consequences. Case studies On the basis of case studies, the book works towards a checklist of issues that need to be addressed in the (re-)design process and the activities that should lead to well-founded decisions, answers and solutions. Those issues need to be considered every time someone designs or redesigns a web site. Most of these questions will not change when an updated or new technology becomes available, although the set of possible answers might change.



Web Site Design is Communication Design

Not about technology This book is not a book about web technology. It is not about Perl, JavaScript, CGI, or any other part of the ‘machine’ that actually make web pages run on computers. You can find many of those books on the shelves of your library or bookstore, and interlace the insights of the authors with the advice, opinions, and examples you can find by browsing the web and subscribing for discussion lists on web design. Those who expect to be responsible for the programming and HTML-coding of a web site certainly need to consult that type of information, but they won’t find it in this book. What they will find in this book is other, i.e. communication-focused information, which they will also need for designing good web sites. Thanks to the respondents The basis of this book is a set of ten case studies of design processes of web sites. This means that this book could not have been written without the kind and generous cooperation of eighteen managers, designers and producers. I want to thank them for their willing and gracious reporting on their work, for their critical reflection on what they had achieved with their efforts, and for their thorough analysis of their own products. If this book proves to be useful, it is due to the openness of the participants in the case studies. Book preview The web sites and the people responsible for them are introduced in Chapter 2. Then, in Chapter 3, attention is paid to the considerations that led those organizations to using the web. This chapter deals with the communication policy of the organizations represented in the case studies. Chapter 4 is not only the longest chapter in this book, its content is also the core of it. It contains a description and analysis of all the activities that together form the design process of web sites, from the initial idea to launching and maintaining the web site. A common factor through the case studies is that the organizations repeatedly stress that they do not know very well what the web site does for them and for their audiences. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, in other words: the quality of the web site is in the tastiness and nutritional values for audiences. Chapter 5 focuses on what the respondents know about their audiences’ response to their site and how they assessed it. Chapter 6 bridges the gap between description and analysis at the one hand and prescription at the other hand. The chapter contains a checklist of questions and issues that need to be addressed in the web site design process. The basis for the checklist is both in the respondents critical review of their

From gadget to medium

own process and products, and in my conclusions and comments on what the respondents reported. It is easy to follow the crowd and criticize the many sites that do not make clear what they are meant for. It is not hard to find examples of sites that demonstrate a striking lack of quality, appeal and effectiveness. This book is written because it is not easy to make a good web site. It requires people with good technical skills, but that’s not enough. Good web site design implies good communication design. This book shows you how experienced web design professionals take communication into account in the web site design process. Reading this book can help you to take the web from being a technological innovation to being an effective medium for your organization.


Chapter 2

The web sites


Selection of web sites This book is about the design of web sites, studied as a communication design process. For a number of case studies, the design decisions and activities of experienced web site and page producers are reconstructed and evaluated. The estimated number of web pages late 1997, just after the period of the case studies, was 200 million (Bharat & Broder, 1999). How did I select, out of these millions, a limited number for in-depth case study? In case studies, the selected cases are not considered a sample from a much larger group (Yin, 1994). They are studied in their own right. That makes it hard to decide which number of cases will do, and what are the best cases to consider. The following section describes the criteria I used for choosing the web sites for this study.

Practical criteria First of all, the selected web sites had to meet some very practical criteria. They had to be up and running for a few months at least, so I could expect the people responsible to have some experience with the eects the site had on visitors and on their own organizations. The sites had to be freely accessible without payment and the organizations had to be established, so successors of the sites described would be open for inspection by readers of this book. The organizations that were responsible for producing the web sites had to be within a reasonable travel distance of each other and located in a place with a lot of web activity. I found a temporary home in the Northwest of the USA, an area that has a thriving high tech and new media industry. Many companies and organizations in that part of the world routinely consider the web as one of their choices when they want to communicate with their external relations. Finally, once I selected a site, the organizations had to give permission and the people involved had to be willing to be interviewed in depth about their site. Other important criteria I derived from characteristics and features of the organizations and the sites themselves. The sites selected had to represent as wide a range of organizations, communicative functions and techni-


Web Site Design is Communication Design

cal features as possible. I aimed for diversity rather than uniformity. I attempted to have each characteristic or feature present in at least two selected web sites.

Range of organizations The range of sites covered both large organizations with hundreds of employees and small organizations, assuming that large organizations would be better equipped in time, knowledge and resources than the smaller ones, and hence might have different design processes and considerations. I wanted to know about large design and production teams, but also about individuals who had to do most of the work on their own. Range of communicative functions I wanted to see the variety of both enterprises with a commercial goal and not-for-profit and public organizations, assuming that their different interests would lead to various communicative functions, and hence to a wide range of effects that had to be achieved with the sites. I selected sites and pages on the basis of their content and its communicative functions. The following functions were to be found in the web sites I selected: – – – – – –

factual information, e.g. about products, services, organizations persuasive information, e.g. appeals to become a member or buy a product (see for an example Figure 2.1) transaction support, e.g. forms for selecting and ordering products communication and interaction support, e.g. features for chats among site visitors instructions, e.g. on how to download a demo entertainment, e.g. a game.

These categories are not mutually exclusive. An element of a site can have various functions at the same time. For example, a visually very attractive game (entertainment) can be meant both to inform the users about biodiversity (factual) and to convey a positive and dynamic organizational image to young visitors (persuasive).

Range of presentation modes One of the reasons that web sites are really different from other media is that they can contain information in many forms and presentations modes. Each of the sites selected contained at least formatted text, including layout, lists, logos, menu bars, navigation buttons, links and other graphical design elements that one usually finds on web pages. But I wanted to go beyond

The web sites

Figure 2.1.Example of page with persuasive information (Center for the Improvement of Student Learning, 1999)

Figure 2.2.Example of animated images: Quicktime movie of construction site (Mariners, 1999)



Web Site Design is Communication Design

formatted text, so I selected some sites and pages because they contained information in the following data types: – – – – – – –

diagrams, e.g. tables, forms images, e.g. drawings of animals, photos of people animated images, e.g. a photo in which the user can ‘look around’ (see for an example Figure 2.2) canned video, e.g. a sequence of images that users can play live video, e.g. real-time camera images canned sound, e.g. a soundtrack that users can play live sound, e.g. a real-time broadcast of a game.

I assumed that web site producers who used the web because of its capabilities for various presentation modes had to deal with particular design issues and demands. Their considerations in choosing particular presentation modes made a good reason to interview them.

Preview of this chapter In the following eight sections I will introduce the eight organizations, the ten web sites and the eighteen people I selected. Each person but one allowed me to use their real name; one person will be referred to with a fictitious name. They all gave permission to mention their web site’s location address. In the following chapters, however, I will mostly refer to the sites, organizations and people with generic names that reflect the respondents function in the organization, the content of the pages and the type of organization. That is because in many cases we only discussed a part of the organization’s site in detail; other parts or the complete site were often simply too big or beyond the task or perspective of the people interviewed. This chapter concludes in 2.10 with two tables that summarize the characteristics of the sites and pages presented.


The Year of the Reader On March 28th 1996, Governor Lowry, heading the Washington State Legislature, proclaimed 1997 to be the Year of the Reader. It was a call for action to parents, educators, businesses and other community members to advocate reading at all educational and professional levels. Unfortunately, the senate did not complement that proclamation with a budget for communicating this initiative to a broad audience. The core mission of The Center for the Improvement of Student

The web sites

Learning (CISL) is to communicate educational policies and initiatives such as the Year of the Reader to the target groups they are aimed at. They were left to find out how they could provide information and materials to the communities involved, within the limits of budgets, resources and staff of its umbrella organization, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). Since the OSPI already had a web site up and running, and the reading expert at staff happened to be very knowledgeable about creating web pages, they decided to use the web as their major means of communication about the Year of the Reader. The Year of the Reader web pages can be accessed directly from the home page of CISL. The pages have four major sections: Information: Facts about the history of the initiative (e.g. the text of the proclamation and the resolution) and the reading curriculum in general. In this section one can also find prompts to businesses and other community members to get involved. Activities: This section is a resource to find out about events and ideas. The latter part offers schools’ success stories and contains hints for teachers, parents and kids. Resources: Here the user can find the type of materials that would normally be sent out in printed form: posters, addresses and brochures about reading. The visitors of the site can download the information and print it out at their demand. Web Links: This final section links the Year of the Reader Initiative to other literacy studies and initiatives, like US President Clinton’s 1996 address on America’s Reading Challenge. I selected the Year of the Reader web pages as a case for this study for two major reasons. Firstly, the makers use the web to inspire people (teachers, community members) to pay extra attention to reading. What they want to achieve is a change of attitude and subsequent behavior by giving literacy and reading a more prominent place in their visitors’ personal, professional or educational activities. As a non-profit organization, the CISL tries to persuade people to ‘buy’ themselves into this non-tangible initiative. A second reason to study this particular site is that CISL uses the web as a mass medium for creating and enhancing direct, personal relations and commitment between the visitors of the site. Particularly the section with the success stories demonstrates this. CISL’s intention is that schools or communities will feel proud about the events they have organized and share their experiences. Others who read about it might get inspired to do similar things and will have easy access to the best source of information,



Web Site Design is Communication Design

Figure 2.3.Sample page of the Year of the Reader web site (CSIL, 1999)

i.e. the people who actually organized the event. Table 2.1 in Section 2.10 summarizes the selection criteria for all web sites studied, including CISL’ s Year of the Reader pages. I interviewed three CSIL members about the Year of the Reader pages: John Anderson, the director of the Center for the Improvement of Student Learning. He has a background in educational and communication technology, which inspires him to use new media for educational purposes in innovative ways. Harriet Herman, educational consultant. She is one of the people responsible for the content of the Year of the Reader pages. Gia Tran, educational researcher and reading specialist of CISL. He actually produced and maintained the pages, and created considerable part of the content. Mr. Tran reviewed a number of the Year of the Reader pages, describing the considerations that had played a role in the design process.


The Nature Conservancy The state of Washington is known for its natural beauty. It has the world’s most northern rainforest, pristine mountains, ocean shores and many other

The web sites

habitats worth to preserve. The mission of the Nature Conservancy of Washington (TNC-W) is to ensure the survival of Washington’s natural heritage by protecting native species in their habitats. TNC-W identifies, acquires and manages lands that are worth preserving, thus protecting the biological diversity in the state. To perform this task, TNC depends on the help of volunteers, staff members, concerned companies and charitable foundations. The donations of those donors (money or volunteer work) are essential for TNC’s success. Communicating with the audiences of existing and potential donors is therefore essential, and the TNC uses its web site for this purpose (TNC, 1999). The design and development of the web site was offered to TNC as a pro bono donation. Microsoft wanted to demonstrate the potential of their new web browser Internet Explorer for developing web sites. The company was looking for appropriate content for the demo site. Already being a corporate donor of TNC, they decided to offer TNC to make a web site for them, as a showcase of their technology. Several design and development companies were hired to help make the site on the basis of the input of TNC. The ambitious project had a clear deadline: a web site developer’s conference in July 1996 where the demo site would be in the focus. The TNC site contains information on several related topics: – – – – – – –

the mission and activities of the Nature Conservancy an explanation of the leading concept of protecting bio-diversity, by stressing that each living thing, human life included, is part of a ‘web of life’ how to become a member the various ways for donating a gift to the TNC volunteering for various types of events and activities a (virtual) nature tour through some of the preserves an extensive explanation of the working of this particular site.

I selected the TNC-W web site for two distinct reasons. It was obvious that TNC-W used the web as more than just a way to pass through information. They wanted to reach out to new members, at the same time trying to persuade their existing membership to do volunteer work and give extra donations. Their web site had both an informational and a persuasive function. Besides, the TNC site is attractive, with many visual elements, both stills and animated. The site contains a number of nifty elements that one does not find often at other sites, such as an interactive game, an animated button, and little ‘factoids’ on bio-diversity that are randomly displayed on pages, yet make an integral part of the page design.



Web Site Design is Communication Design

Figure 2.4.Sample page of the Nature Conservancy site (TNC, 1996)

The site was designed for TNC by a consortium of companies. I spoke with two people about the site: Kent Pearson, from Metabridge, is the coordinator of the development team. His background is in technical communication, but over the years he moved into web site design project management. Gordon Todd is the Director of Communications of TNC. He holds a degree in Journalism. He was the Nature Conservancy representative in the project. Both reflected on a selection of pages that I showed them, describing the design considerations that had determined its content and looks.


The Electronic City Hall In 1994, the City of Seattle wanted to promote new technologies and at the same time support an easier, unrestricted channel through which it could communicate with its citizens. The City Council decided to create what they called an ‘electronic city hall’. Originally the plan encompassed three related initiatives: a public electronic bulletin board system that people could reach by calling in with a modem, a web site that would give similar information via the Internet, and workstations for free Internet access by citizens, located

The web sites

Figure 2.5.Sample page of the City Hall site (PAN, 1999)

at community centers and other public places. Effective February 1995, the web is now an essential part of the city’s communication with its citizens, businesses and visitors (PAN, 1999). As in any other large city, the Seattle Municipality itself consists of many different departments, and also is the front end for many separate services, such as utility providers or agencies at county, state or federal level. Citizens often do not know to which department or service they should go with their specific request for information or action. In 1997, the Public Access Network (PAN) contained over 1800 documents (which typically contain text, graphics or forms) by the city and linked to many other systems that carry information that citizens might be looking for. Since 1996 the web site is organized around three types of audiences: citizens, businesses and visitors of Seattle. The users of the web site do not have to worry too much in which category they belong: many of the links to documents appear in more than one section. For each of the target groups, a ‘page at a glance’ is presented, which actually is a directory of issues the user might be interested in. For example, in the business section the documents are ordered under headings like Licenses and Permits, Public Utilities, Trade & Development, and Constructing Services. I selected the PAN web site because it contains information that comes from many providers, but is perceived as coming from one large, diverse organization as a source. The web site has to be appealing for a wide variety



Web Site Design is Communication Design

Figure 2.6.Sample page of the University site (UW, 1999)

of audiences who will not use it because they like computers, but because they have a need for information or communication. I spoke with two people in the city’s Department of Information Technology and Media. Rona Zevin is the manager of interactive media and distributive computing for the City of Seattle. Jeffrey Crist is the technical and creative director of the team that produces and maintains the Public Access Network. He holds a degree in Technical Communication. He also reviewed and commented upon a number of pages from the Business Information section.


The University The University of Washington, at a respectable age of over 130 years, has a youngster’s zeal in following and creating new developments in technology. The public research university has three campuses, about 35,000 students and 16,500 staff and faculty. Its mission is to provide the citizens of Washington with outstanding teaching, research and public service. Such a large organization, with a variety of departments and services that are of interest for a variety of target groups, produces a lot of information and documentation. From early on, the university’s department of Computing and Communications has seen opportunities in publishing this

The web sites

stream of documents in electronic form. The University web site was a logical step in a succession of previous electronic information systems (University of Washington, 1999). The homepage of the University demonstrates the wide range of topics and target groups. Below a camera view of the central square on campus, one finds an annotated list of options. The visitor can get information about: – – – –

The university as an organization, for example about its mission, size and history. The university as an educational institute, for example about the resources it provides and its admission procedures. The university as an umbrella organization and shared access point for the various departments and research groups. The university as a public service provider, for example about the Medical Center that provides primary and specialized medical care to the larger public.

The University web site was selected for a number of reasons. It is clearly used as a means to distribute large bodies of information to internal and external target groups. The information is delivered by many different providers, which are autonomous units within the larger organization. It uses ‘almost live’ video images on its home page to draw attention to the organization. I spoke with two people who contributed to the University web site: Ed Lightfoot, the director of Information Systems at the University of Washington. His background is in software development and project management. Melanie Winkle, the Internet Information Coordinator of the University. Her job was a logical development from her library background. Ms. Winkle went over a selection of pages of the University site and described the considerations that had played a part in the design decisions of those pages.


The Traffic Flow pages Since 1993, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) uses the World Wide Web to communicate with the general public. The last few years, a variety of information on transportation issues can be found on their web site. It contains both practical information e.g. about road and pass conditions, and more general information, e.g. about construction project plans or about a conference that WSDOT is organizing (WSDOT, 1999).



Web Site Design is Communication Design

The number of vehicles on the freeways and arterial networks in the Seattle area has been growing steadily, to the point of the system’s maximum capacity. Traffic congestion is an experience almost every commuter in the region is confronted with on a daily basis. Because this problem is not easily resolved on the short term, WSDOT Traffic Management is focusing on ways of managing the existing transportation system to maximize efficiency. They are using computerized systems, e.g. computer-operated camera systems surveying the highways and bridges, to control and smooth the flow of vehicles on the roads. The information is collected and distributed by traffic operators, using a dedicated computer system. Some of the mass media, such as radio stations, hooked up to the WSDOT computer to provide their audiences with up-to-date traffic flow reports. Almost as an afterthought, it was decided in 1996 that the camera images of the traffic flow could be displayed on the WSDOT web pages as well. Both the most current information from the 45 cameras and the information that WSDOT has about accidents or construction work that might influence the traffic flow, is made accessible to the commuter. The user can get three types of information: Maps: The maps show the traffic congestion situation on the freeways, based on the most current information provided by the cameras. Users can select the way the information is displayed; e.g. they can select a map that focuses on the bridges that are the main bottlenecks in the system. Cameras: By selecting one of the 45 closed-circuit cameras that provide traffic information, the user can survey the situation at a particular point. The images of the cameras are updated every 1.5 minutes. Reports: Users can see a list of incidents or construction works, as they are composed and processed by the traffic operators. The incident messages are formulated in a special format, containing many abbreviations to reduce the amount of data that the operators have to send out. I selected the WSDOT Traffic Flow web site for this study because it uses ‘almost live’ video images to convey relevant information to a general public. Although one can find many web sites that display camera stills or footage, only a few do so for other reasons than to show the possibilities of the medium. I interviewed two people at the Washington State Department of Transportation. Michael Forbis, leader of the Surveillance Control and Driver Information design group within Traffic Systems Management Center of WSDOT. He is responsible for the traffic flow web sites; he solved several of the technical

The web sites

Figure 2.7.Sample page of the Traffic Flow pages: map view (WSDOT, 1999)

puzzles to get the traffic information displayed on the web site. Greg Leege, transportation engineer with the Traffic Systems Management Center. He actually created large parts of the web site, including both the technical infrastructure and the content. The two transportation experts also evaluated a number of pages from their web sites.


The Baseball Team The only home plate that attracts more Seattle Mariners fans than the one in the team’s ballpark is located at the Internet site of the baseball team. In 1994 Ultraplex Information Systems (later renamed into Medius Interactive), a web design company, wanted to demonstrate to prospective clients that it could create innovative web pages. The company’s presidents surveyed sports organizations to decide what type of organization would well be served by a web site, and then offered the nearby Mariners to create one for them. They planned and designed the site, sold advertisements, and initially maintained and updated the information. With hindsight, they regretted not having made the same offer to all the Major League baseball teams. The Seattle Mariners thought a web site was a good idea. It would give them an additional means to disseminate the information about the team and sell tickets and merchandise to their fans. From the beginning, they treated the web site as a serious channel of communication; they decided to



Web Site Design is Communication Design

Figure 2.8.Sample page of the Baseball Team site (Mariners, 1999)

put everything possible on it, and integrated it in their communication plan. The content was selected with a view on what fans might be interested in: pictures of players in action, sound tracks from radio reports, and photos of areas where fans cannot visit such as the manager’s office. The Seattle Mariners site offers information that duplicates their print publications, such as schedules, rosters, records and statistics, but it also contains types of information that can hardly be offered in an other way. During the game, the scores and notes are updated so fans who can not receive broadcast reports still can keep themselves informed. They can see videos of the construction of the new stadium, and order tickets for regular season games on-line. I selected the Baseball organization’s site mainly because so many different presentation modes have been applied. It has text, images, animations, diagrams, audio and video clips, chat rooms and forms with which to order merchandise. The site has multiple functions. It must inform fans about the actions of their favorites, but it must also persuade people that building the new stadium is worthwhile. It must instruct them on how to check the view from a particular seat in the stadium and how to order a ticket. But most of all it must entertain the fans with news about their favorite baseball team. I talked with two people who were involved in making the Mariners site.

The web sites

Mark Weber is one of the founders and presidents of Ultraplex Information Systems, the company that designed the site. He was involved with the management and marketing of the project, and reviewed everything that the Ultraplex team created. Dave Aust is the Director of Public Relations of the Seattle Mariners. He has over fifteen year in sports information and journalism. He is responsible for the dissemination of information about the Mariners in any form, such as TV, radio, magazines and newspapers. Mr. Weber reviewed a number of printed pages from the web site.


The Internet Bookstore Amazon might be one of the world’s biggest bookstores, yet it is unlikely that you ever visited their physical premises. The place the customers of Amazon will visit and revisit, is their World Wide Web site (Amazon, 1999). Already in 1997, Amazon offered an impressive catalogue of 1.5 million books in print and 1 million out-of-print books that are often hard to find. Besides the books, other products like CDs and videos are offered. Customers can either search the catalogue for a particular book, author or subject they are interested in, or follow the many pathways that has created to help them browsing the wealth of books. The obvious goal of the company is to sell books and their web site makes it almost impossible to resist the appeal. The catalogue contains the facts about the books, like the publisher, the price and the time it will probably take to ship them to the customer. But many titles are also accompanied by reviews, either by the specialized editors of Amazon, or by customers who volunteer to write a review for a book they read. The editors also select ‘Books of the Day’ in various categories, make lists like the ‘Mystery 50’ with top titles that are offered for extra reduced prices, and write articles on new publications in the online journal. Once the customer has decided to purchase a book, a form is presented that streamlines the process of ordering and paying on-line. A first-time customer can give a password so personal information can be retrieved for all next transactions. The order is confirmed by an e-mail message to the customer that is generated automatically. When the order is shipped (which can be as soon as within a day), the customer is notified again. The book is delivered by large, international mail carrier companies, a system that allows the customer to check the progress of the delivery on the carriers’ web sites.



Web Site Design is Communication Design

Figure 2.9.Sample page of Internet Bookstore (Amazon, 1999) customers can sign up with two services that will notify them about publications that they might be interested in without any obligation to buy the books described. The EYES system asks the customer to define specific authors or subjects, and then generates personalized email messages about publications that match the description. When the customers sign up for the Expert Editors service, they will receive e-mail messages with more general news bulletins about noteworthy publications in the particular fields they selected. I selected as part of this study because it is really an Internet-only commercial enterprise. From its conception, the company was designed with the web as its bookstore window, and that makes it a rare bird. A second reason to talk with the people is the nature of the site; the core is a catalogue and a transaction procedure. They managed to develop a system that can search a database that contains 2,5 million records, and can do it fast. Finally, the site is interesting for the attempts Amazon makes to create a direct and personal communication link with their community of customers: sending them personalized e-mails, inviting them to add their comments to the database of book titles, etc. I interviewed two of’s web site designers to discuss the books part of the site: Shell Kaphan is one of the founders of and responsible for the technical design of the web site. Initially he was involved in building the

The web sites

software, now he is managing the team that is responsible for the technical realization of the Amazon web site. Susan Benson is a managing editor for the book catalogue. She has a writing and editing background and holds a degree in Journalism. Ms. Benson reviewed characteristic pages of the Amazon web site.


The Software Corporation A web of web sites ‘Where do you want to go today?’ Microsoft Corporation asks the visitors of its products’ web sites. That is a good question, given that the series of sites you find when you type in have over 200,000 HTMLpages with information. Over 120 million times a day, someone in the world grabs a bit of information from one of those sites. And that is just the web site that Microsoft Corporation created for product information and technical support. They also have a number of others: is the default start page for people using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer as their browser on the web. Thousands of people will see this start page appear on their screen before they surf off. Maybe they are heading for one of Microsoft’s ‘premium content’ web sites, such as MSNBC (news), Slate (magazine), and Sidewalk (city information). Three parts of the Microsoft web of web sites were selected for the case studies. The many web sites contain varying types of information, but have some graphical and typographical elements in common. The upper part of the screen is reserved for default Microsoft design elements. It helps users to recognize the site as belonging to the software corporation. A default navigation button bar offers access to the major parts of the web of web sites with labels such as Products, Support and Shop. At the left hand, another navigation button bar indicates the topics addressed in this particular site. The many different sites are produced by various groups within the organization. A user following links in search of particular information could well jump from one site to another, from the work of one designer to the work of another, without ever noticing. At Microsoft, I spoke with three respondents. Two of them were responsible for particular sites, the third was responsible for a group of sites. The sites and the people who are producing them are introduced below.



Web Site Design is Communication Design

2.9.1 The software launch The first site discussed contained information about the software corporation’s browser, Internet Explorer called ‘IE’ for short (Microsoft a, 1999). The site is part of a group of sites with product information. It offers a variety of technical support information and marketing information, for example demo’s of the software. The site is partly organized along lines of audiences, like developers and home users, and partly along the lines of events, such as a launch of a new version. It supports the download of program parts. At the time of the case study, two major events determined the main content of the IE web site. Firstly, a security problem in relation to the current version of the browser was detected, which created a lot of media interest and subsequent responses from the software corporation. Secondly, a new release of the browser program (4.0) was about to appear. The site contained preview pages, aimed at end users, Information Systems managers and developers. For reasons of brevity, I will refer to the latter part of the site as the software launch site. I selected this particular site because it offers an interesting mix of factual information (describing product features) and persuasive information (marketing the IE products). It supports transactions (downloading

Figure 2.10.Sample page of the software launch site (Microsoft a, 1999)

The web sites

software) for which it provides instructions. I discussed the IE software launch site with: Emily Warn, the producer for the Internet Explorer products web site. She manages the team that prepared the information on the software launch. Her background is in English and Technical Communication, and she also has published as a poet. 2.9.2 The browser default start page The second Microsoft site of which the design process was discussed in detail may look familiar to a lot of people. It is the default start page of the software corporation’s Internet browser, Internet Explorer (Microsoft b, 1999). For many people it is their access point to the Internet.

Figure 2.11.Default start page for Internet browser (Microsoft b, 1999)



Web Site Design is Communication Design

The software corporation tries to do more than just offer a point of entrance. The web site developers want to give their visitors good reasons to use the Internet and hence their browser. They want to persuade people to go out on the web by showing them the possibilities, helping them find useful or entertaining information or drawing their attention to Internet services or applications they might want to use. The development team tries to achieve those goals with interesting and well-written features, current news headlines and links to interesting web events. This makes the default start page almost a small size web magazine, the content of which is refreshed every few days (see Figure 2.11). I discussed the default start page with: Jonas Lanov, who is a program manager for two web sites that have to do with the browser IE, one of which is the start page site. He is part of a team that had to rethink all the IE-related sites and redesign them. His background is extremely varied; among the many things he did, he was a writer of computer books, editor, consultant and designer of ergonomic products. 2.9.3 The software products In 1996, only a short time after Microsoft embraced the web as a major communication and marketing tool, the company felt that the many web sites of the corporation lacked unity and consistency. About 200 groups within the company were publishing web sites. Users became confused when the design of the sites they were visiting appeared inconsistent, not noticing that the information they asked for was provided by many different product groups, each with its own web site and its own design. For the collection of web sites that offer information on the corporation’s products (Microsoft c, 1999), a team of producers was assigned. Their work was to set style standards for the pages, develop web tools to support the groups, coordinate the many international sites, and unify the look and feel. The team has created a set of technical requirements, download requirements, style requirements and legal requirements. They see it as their task to convince the product groups to adhere to the requirements, rather than imposing the rules on the autonomous groups.

The web sites

Figure 2.12.Sample page with product information (Microsoft c, 1999)

The products sites grew from on-line support service for customers into a sales and marketing vehicle. The entrance page of the group of sites shows a long of list of products. Whether the visitor is a business person, a developer, a game player or just a curious person, lots of information on the products is to be found. The group of sites is developing rapidly. The corporation wants to add a shopping section, tries to merge information from visitors into the marketing database, and considers creating crossproduct web magazines that focus on particular audiences. At the time of the case study, a security issue with the corporation’s browser program had just been detected. The company immediately took action and created a new version of the browser, with additional security features. Visitors could download the updated program from one of the product sites. This site also offered information about security issues in general, frequently asked questions about the issue, as well as an open letter from the Vice-President, explaining the corporation’s policy and actions in the security issue. I wanted to discuss the products sites in general and the role of the team of producers in particular because it offered an other point of view on the design process of web sites. The discussion would enable me to see what organizations can do to monitor the quality of a whole set of web sites, rather than just one. I spoke with: Kristin Dukay, who calls herself a ‘style producer’ for She



Web Site Design is Communication Design

brought 15 years of experience in technical writing, editing, managing and producing training to her newly created job.


The case study approach Once the ten sites of eight organizations were selected, I tried to speak with at least two people in each organization. One person was — preferably — as a manager responsible for the communication policy in which the web site played a role. The other person selected was someone involved in producing the actual content of the pages considered, e.g. as the author or editor of the text or as the manager of a production team. I interviewed these people for 1–2.5 hours about the web site they were responsible for. For each interview, I used a list of open-ended questions, which gave the person interviewed enough room to report both on the issues I asked about and on issues they themselves deemed important. Major topics in the interviews were: –

– –

The history of the web site: when was the plan conceived, who was involved in the decisions of what it should be, what kind of decisions were pre-planned, and which were taken on the flight? Functions and audiences of the site: what was the web site to do for the organization and who were supposed to be the visitors? Design process: who was involved in actually designing and producing the site, how were decisions on the site connected with organizational policy, communication policy and other communication means of the organization, and what activities took place and when? Evaluation: what was known about the visitors of the site, the way they behaved when visiting the site, and the actual effects compared to the intended function?

The interviews were audio-taped and subsequently transcribed. In the next chapters I will often use direct quotations from the interviews. The codes in the text between parentheses, like (YR GT A332), refer to the location of the quote on tape.


Content of pages discussed Besides the long list of questions on the four topics mentioned above, I asked the person who was involved in producing the pages to reflect on and

The web sites

review about ten selected pages. Each document, each page is always a result of a balancing act. I asked them to indicate the audiences of the various page parts, stronger and weaker elements for this audience, and the trade-offs made, both in terms of process and product. The sites selected contained so many pages that it was simply impossible to discuss all the separate pages with the respondents. For each site, I determined a ‘walkthrough’ of about 10 pages, starting at the site’s home page, then following links from one page to the other, just like any browsing visitor of the site could do. I made the walkthroughs as varied as possible, favoring elements with a different presentation mode or a different communicative function (see Figure 2.13 and 2.14). Tables 2.1 and 2.2 below summarize the content of the pages I have discussed with the respondents. In the cells, you will find examples of how particular features appeared in a particular ‘walkthrough’. An empty cell in the table does not necessarily mean that a particular site does not contain such an element; it just means that a particular element was not included in the ten page walkthrough.


Ordering, Search

Demo, Download Newsgroups, Email us


News, Game logs

Product informa- Reviews tion

Product news

News, Articles

Product news

Traffic Flow

Professional baseball club

Internet bookstore

Software corp: software launch

Software corp: default start page

Software corp: products

Open letter




Appeal for donations

Download, Search




Email us

Email us

Customer review, Email us

Survey, Chat

Email us

Email us

Email us

Overview, News


Directory, Regulations

Electronic City hall

Download, Forms

Calendar, Newsletter

Request to respond

Inter action

Nature Conservation

Appeal for membership

Calendar, Report Appeal to participate

Year of Reader –

Factual informa- Persuasive information(Trans-) action tion support


Table 2.1.Content of web pages discussed: communicative functions




Rules of conduct






Audio clips


Enter tainment

36 Web Site Design is Communication Design

Demo –

Screen captures

Illustrations, Portrait

Illustrations, Portrait

Table, Form






Table, Form

Electronic City hall


Traffic Flow

Professional baseball club

Internet bookstore

Software corp a: software launch

Software corp b: default start page

Software corp c: prod- – ucts

Photos of book covers

Photos of players VR movie clubhouse

Photos of campus –

Document copies –

Drawings, Nature Logo, photos Game

Nature Conservation

Copy of document


Year of Reader

TV spot

Animated images Canned video

Diagrams, forms Images


Table 2.2.Content of pages discussed: presentation modes, other than text

Greetings from the director

Canned sound

Live sound

Radio season highlights

View on roads –

Games broadcast

View on campusWelcome by pres- – ident

Live video

The web sites 37

Chapter 3

Why using the web?


Reasons to use the web The first questions I asked in every organization were “Why did you start using the web?” and “What made you think your organization should add the web to its range of communication means?” The initial answers I got are rather predictable; organizations said that they wanted to reach out to a broad variety of audiences, and they hoped the web would enable them to do so. After some probing, however, their reasons to start using the web proved to be much more diverse. Two extremes, the Internet Bookstore and the Traffic Flow web site, will demonstrate the differences.

Web communication essential for doing business For the Internet Bookstore, communication with the customers is essential for success, and their web site is the center of the communication. Their site is where the customers go to browse, read reviews of books, buy them and pay, and track the shipping of the books ordered. Other means of communication surround the web site, such as the e-mail that is sent to customers to confirm orders or draw attention to new books that might meet their interests. But, for the customer, the web site simply IS the bookstore. The wider availability of the web actually initiated the bookstore: One of the founders is a business analyst who saw a market opportunity in the incredible speed of growth of the Internet. The founders decided that books were a commodity that would sell well via the web. In this case, the communication between organization and its primary target group, the book buyers, is built upon and around the web site. The quality and effectiveness of the web site influence the success of the business directly. Web communication as a side effect of core business In contrast, for the traffic engineers who created the Traffic Flow site, web use came almost as an afterthought. The Department of Transportation (DOT) monitors the traffic flow with cameras mounted at places along the freeways. The video images are processed by traffic operators, working with a dedicated computer system. The camera images are used to optimize the


Web Site Design is Communication Design

traffic flow in order to reduce congestion at the overcrowded roads. For a number of years the DOT has allowed some customers, such as newspapers, radio stations and larger companies, to look into their computer systems and publish the data. When the traffic engineers became aware of the potential of the Internet, they thought that publishing the traffic data on a web site could reduce the workload of supporting the troublesome information delivery by modem to the not too computer-savvy newspapers and radio stations. There was one thing, however, they had not fully realized: putting the video images up on the web automatically implied that they were also accessible for a much broader public, such as the commuters themselves. The traffic engineers who maintain the web site now are becoming aware that new audiences also require new forms of communication. For example, part of the information, such as the bulletins on traffic incidents, is formatted in a DOT-originated lingo of abbreviations and road numbers. This never was a problem, until incidental commuters became part of the audience (see Figure 3.1). The traffic engineers now try to meet both the demands of their traffic management job and the needs of the expanding group of ordinary commuters who consult their web site. They realize that the web site unexpectedly has made their agency visible in a positive way and they can show tax payers

Figure 3.1.Abbreviations on Traffic Flow page: acceptable for dedicated users, but not for the general public (WSDOT, 1999)

Why using the web?

how their tax dollars are put to work. Nevertheless, web site design or maintenance is in nobody’s job description, although one of the traffic engineers is allowed to spend quite of bit of time on it. DOT is now talking with companies who will integrate their traffic data in a marketable product. It will keep collecting the information, that is part of their traffic management work. However, they might well decide to leave the design and distribution of the information to others who are better equipped for that task. Designing and maintaining the web site for large audiences is beyond the DOT’s core business and even reduces time spent on other traffic management tasks.

Reasons to use the web Between these two extremes, the web site as the core of an e-commerce business and the web site as a venue for publishing data that were collected for another purpose, one can find the other web sites studied. In the following sections we will consider the motives of organizations to start using the web in more detail. The two reasons mentioned most often in the interviews are: – –

Distributing a large amount of information Updating information that changes rapidly

These motives are similar to what the handbook literature indicates as good reasons for thinking about on-line information systems as opposed to print information systems. But the interviews revealed some other reasons: – Reducing costs and effort, compared to other publication systems – Improving customer relations – Updating existing information systems that are becoming obsolete – Creating a forum or community – Showcasing technology – Joining the crowd: ‘Me too’ In most organizations, more than one reason played a role when the web was considered as a communication means. The reasons in those circumstances will be described in more detail in the following sections.


Distributing a large amount of information Distribution of information is essential for almost every conceivable business or organization. The Software Corporation produces a wealth of fast changing products, and wants its current and potential customers to have up-to-date information about them. The Internet Bookstore wants to



Web Site Design is Communication Design

give book buyers information about the 2,5 million or more books they are offering. The University has a variety of programs and services about which applying and current students need to be informed, but that are also of interest for external audiences such as scientists from other universities or patients at the University Hospital. The City Hall gives access to a myriad of services, for which citizens, businesses and visitors need to find their way in the complicated maze that city regulations and institutions inevitably are. In all these cases, the amount of information is large, and customers are interested in a relatively small part of it. If this large body of information was not offered via a web site, the organizations would have either very thick volumes in print, or a wide variety of print publications, and probably both. Using the web means giving the customers one central point of access to that large body of information.

Information architecture With so much information to publish, one of the major problems appears to be offering a structure (information architecture) that is clear, meaningful and consistent for the users, especially when many different providers produce the information. This was the case in organizations like the Internet Bookstore, the University, and the Software Corporation. It takes an orchestrated effort to maintain unity and consistency. Although the producers of the information may consider themselves autonomous (parts of) organizations, visitors of the site will conceive all information as belonging to one set, just because it is accessible through one point of entrance (see Figure 3.2). Search facilities If organizations are publishing large amounts of information, the visitors of the site are often interested in only a small part of it, e.g. the information about one product or one program. They must find their way to that particular piece in a bulk of information that is not of interest to them. The web designers appear to solve the problem of finding that one particular piece without having to go through a large set of irrelevant information by including a search facility. However, offering a search engine means that the responsibility for finding the right information has been transferred from the designers of the information to the users of the information. From research on searching behavior in manuals, documentation and web sites, we know that users often have trouble constructing a good query (Nielsen, 2000). So even when search engines are called for on a site, they don’t reduce the need for a clear and meaningful structure within the information.

Why using the web?

Figure 3.2.City Hall site, giving access to a large amount of information through its links (PAN, 1999)

Navigation tools, like site maps, navigation buttons, and links should reflect that structure (Farkas & Farkas, 2000; Rosenfeld & Morville, 1998).


Updating information that changes rapidly The amount of information can count as one sound reason to use the web, but in more than half of the cases, the pace of change or the transient nature of the information was an additional reason. For example, the Traffic Flow pages show the condition of roads in ‘real time’, a timely service that print media can never beat. The Baseball Team keeps a game log during the match, so fans who can not attend the actual or broadcast match can still see how their heroes are doing during the game (see Figure 3.3 below).

Continuous change and consistency In other cases, updating the information synchronous to particular events is less crucial, but even then, an often considerable proportion of the information needs to be changed and updated on a regular basis. In the catalogues of the Software Corporation and the Bookstore, products are to be replaced by their updates, prices are changing, product reviews become available, etc.



Web Site Design is Communication Design

Figure 3.3.Constantly updated information: The game log of the baseball team (Mariners, 1999)

When these catalogues had been in print, changes would be kept in store until a new version of the product documentation was to be printed. Because the catalogues are available on-line, changing becomes a continuous process. In order to keep the site consistent, a style sheet or design grid for the pages to be designed appears necessary.

Planning updates When an organization uses the web for rapidly changing information, it creates an expectation that the information on the web is the ‘state of the art’ information that is available to the organization. Yet one can ďŹ nd many pages on the web with information that is obviously old or even outdated, such as announcements of events long passed. Even more than in printed media, visitors of the site seem to reject outdated information, and hence the organization that did not replace or refresh it. That is why in cases where rapidly changing information is an important reason to create a web site, the design and planning of update and control procedures is essential. Accord-

Why using the web?

ing to the web designers interviewed, that should be part of the site design process, as much as the design of the actual web pages.


Reducing costs and effort Web communication to reduce print costs A good reason for going to the web is that the medium might save costs and effort compared to other media. Yet in only two cases, the Year of the Reader pages and the Traffic Flow site, this was mentioned as a reason to start using the web. For other organizations, saving costs and effort (if any) was an unintended effect. When the Year of the Reader was proclaimed by the Washington State legislature, it was an unfunded mandate. There was no budget set apart for printing materials and mailing them out. Thus, it was decided to assign some staff time to the project and add the Year of the Reader pages to the educational Center’s web site. If it hadn’t been for the web, the Center would not have been able to distribute so many of its materials. The educational researcher that made the web pages mentioned the campaign logo as an example. “Usually we send it out on disk to people who ask for it. It is time consuming. We get a request and post it and send it out. Now we make it available on the web. If you want it, go over there and grab it. It saves a lot [of time], and people are very happy because they can choose whatever they want to.” (YR GT A268). Web communication to reduce support costs of other connections For the Department of Transportation (DOT) who set up the Traffic Flow web site, the main reason was to save the effort of maintaining another, rather awkward system. They had a dial-up system with 8 modems and 8 telephone lines, which gave about 200 users access to the traffic images and bulletins that the DOT generates. Local newspapers, radio/TV stations and larger companies could retrieve a continuously updated map that showed the traffic data and, in particular, the congestion areas. DOT developed dedicated software that enabled these customers to haul that map and later the video images into their own computer systems. The result of this service to the public was that a DOT engineer was going out to sites, loading software on people’s computers and getting them up and running because quite a few of the radio and TV stations did not have the expertise on board to do it themselves. By deciding on the web and hence for standard protocols and interaction, retrieving the information has become much easier for



Web Site Design is Communication Design

the customers. DOT hopes to be able to quit the dial-up service and save a lot of time and energy by using the web. The other organizations are cautious in their expectations of the web saving them time and money. One of the web producers of the large Software Corporation, which has dedicated huge financial and human resources to its web presence, seemed to be reluctant to make any claim about costs decreased. “I dont think that [cost reduction] is a conscious goal. I think it is just evolving like that. It has had that effect, but I don’t think it was intended.” (MS EW A526). Obviously, her organization started to use the web for other reasons than efficiency of business only, i.e. improving customer relations.

Justifying expenses implies evaluation One may expect that it is rapidly becoming more common to use the web as part of the media mix of organizations. As a consequence of that, web page designers will be more often asked to account for the resources and time spent (Stout, 1997). The only way to do that is by making the costs and benefits of the web site, as opposed to other media, visible. When a web site is made by an external vendor, financial investments often are easily discernible. But also when web sites are designed by people within the organization who will do it ‘on the side’, it is necessary to make costs visible. Calculating and justifying expenses is easier for designers who have estimated the work and quantified its intended effects beforehand. With those figures in hand, they can later evaluate the design process and the effects of the product against the expectations and against the costs made for other forms of communication. When an organization has not used the web before, estimations of returns on investments are often hard to make. In such cases, a carefully planned evaluation project, which includes collecting baseline data on existing means of communication, is even more indispensable than in other cases (see Chapter 5 on evaluation).


Improving customer relations The efficiency argument has another side that might give organizations more good reasons to start using the web. Not the time saved by the organization, but the time and energy saved by the customer could be a sound reason to start using the web. Both for the University and for the Electronic City Hall this was the main reason, and it might be not a coincidence that both are public service organizations. The manager responsible for the City

Why using the web?

Hall site phrased it like this: “We have largely stayed away from the argument that we were decreasing costs. The efficiency part of it really touches upon the audience. Because now people don’t have to drive downtown or don’t have to wait in lines for certain things. So really, the efficiency comes into play for our audience.” (PAN RZ A351).

Appreciation by site visitors Improved customer relations can be achieved in many ways. The customers’ appreciation for better service (more information and support, less expensive or time-consuming contacts at more convenient times, transactions fulfilled from home) will in the end lead to better relations between organization and customer. (See Figure 3.4 below). This effect will be enhanced when the site itself is a demonstration that the organization cares about its customers. When the pages are attractive, logically consistent and easy to use, positive experiences will reflect on the site owner. The Internet Bookstore was clearly aware of this effect, as is evident from the remarks of the editor: “[We want our customers to ] … come to our site and have a good time, whether or not they buy a book. [It is] enjoyable information that also attracts them as a place to spend some time even if they’re not in a mood to shop. … We want to provide clear and easy searches for people. … Attractive, fun and easy while being logical.” (AM SB A132, A162). Contact information In all cases but one, the organization stresses its interest in the visitor of the site by providing an e-mail address that gives the visitor access to the organization (see Figure 3.5). Visitors of the site are prompted to respond to the site with phrases like “Drop us a line and let us know what you think!” (on the Traffic Flow page) or “We encourage you to email us your comments and questions” (on the City Hall site). Offering this extra communication channel is much like offering help desk support in a user manual, or a toll-free consumer service on the product packaging. It can be a good way to improve and expand relations between the organization and its customers. But unlike help desks and toll free numbers that give access to customer-oriented services, the email address often gives access to the webmaster, who manages and maintains the infrastructure rather than the content of the site. Designing the back office process The designers of web sites with interaction and transaction facilities, like the Baseball team site and the City Hall site, commented on the importance of



Web Site Design is Communication Design

Figure 3.4.Visitors exchange their opinions about books: one of the many ways to improve relations with the customer (Amazon, 1999)

(re-)designing the back office process together with the web site. If an email address or transaction form is offered on the site, there must be a person assigned to answer the emails and to follow up on the forms. On-line communication has an air of fastness — people expect immediate response. For transactions, users expect some kind of confirmation of what they have done, and of course a subsequent processing of their forms. Part of the design of a web site should be the design of the surrounding and subsequent business process and communication, and that could include training of employees who are not involved in the web site design process.


Updating existing information systems Some organizations felt obliged to start using the web, because their previous system to deliver on-line information was becoming obsolete. But changing from one information delivery system to another, is more than just exchanging one type of information carrier with another. It can be compared to replacing information in a newspaper by information on

Why using the web?

Figure 3.5.Invitation to send email to the organization (WSDOT, 1999)

television: These are not only different carriers, they are different media. They offer different opportunities and facilities, and are associated with different social and communicative processes and effects.

Development The manager of the University web site described the development in his organization: “We got into electronic publication on the network in the late 1980’s, because more and more people were beginning to get connected. One of the things we did was to build a user interface called UWIN. We felt it was more organized and easier to navigate than Gopher [then a standard for on-line information systems]. UWIN is still used, but utilization is beginning to decline now, because everybody is going to the web. After Mosaic came out, I think in 1993, we started trying to figure out the University’s web presence. Initially, we had what in retrospect was a bad idea. We



Web Site Design is Communication Design

thought we would build something that looked like UWIN, we called it Web UWIN. We wanted to make the information underlying UWIN available both on the web and in character [UWIN] form. It was obvious to us very soon that the web was going to be a very different kind of information medium than UWIN. It was going to be much richer, it was going to include many, many more information sources external to the University. And the web environment created a lot more excitement and energy everywhere. In the Gopher or character mode, you did not see this phenomena of people throwing up information wildly, crazily, everywhere, with absolutely no control at all. It was clear that you couldn’t impose a rigid hierarchy on it, it was indeed a web.” (UW EL A178, A290).

Change of medium and content The Software Corporation went through a similar process. The Support group had a CompuServe account, filled with on-line support information for their customers. When more and more people started to switch over to the web, the corporation wondered whether they should also create their own web sites. The CompuServe account served as the basis for the first web sites; the information structure was copied. But quickly it became clear that the web offered, even required, a new focus. They started putting up marketing information as well, trying to address pre-sales issues as well as post-sales issues. Changing the delivery system in the end resulted in a changing view on what needed to be delivered (MS KD A258–315). Transition One of the hardest problems, in the view of organizations who started using the web as a successor of other (on-line or paper) information systems, was to decide when to make the transition. The University and the Software Corporation, which both offer a large amount of information, felt forced to maintain two parallel information systems, at least for some time. They gradually filled the new system with information that was copied or mirrored from the old system. This almost inevitably leads to shallow use of the extras that the new system offered. Shortly after adaptation of the information for the web, the organization felt the need to re-design the web site (see Figure 3.6).

Why using the web?

Figure 3.6.Directory structure of old system, reflected in new system (UW, 1997)


Creating a forum or community The visitors of a web site often have a shared interest. They are users of the same product, they are interested in the same educational initiative, or they are devoted to the same sports team. Often without knowing each other, they form a group, and organizations can foster the group feeling by bringing the members in touch with each other. Non-profit organizations might do this to promote their cause and bring like-minded souls in touch. For commercial organizations the goal is often to attract more visitors to their site for longer visits, and to create ‘brand loyalty’.

Forms of interaction among visitors Facilitating interaction among visitors can be achieved in many ways. The Software Corporation started an e-mail discussion list for users of a product, who were all dealing with the same security problem. The Baseball team had a chat room, where fans could share their opinions about the game, the players and the team. On the Year of the Reader web site, one could find success stories of schools and teachers, to inspire other schools to undertake similar activities. Telling the success story is just a step away from giving site visitors direct access to the school or person who organized



Web Site Design is Communication Design

the successful activity. The producer of the Year of the Reader web pages, an educational specialist, was convinced that creating community was the most inspiring and promising function of the web. He wanted his web site to be a hub of communication for all those interested, and saw himself only as the middleman. People who possibly are interested in the promotion of reading might live widely dispersed, working in many different places and institutes. In his view, there was no other way to give all these people a comprehensive grasp on all the opportunities out there (YR GT B269).

Interaction organization – visitor For the Baseball Team, maintaining and improving good relations with their fans is the most important function for their site. Initially they did so by providing the information they thought fans would like, such as pictures of the team players, or audio fragments of thrilling game events. When they expanded the site, they focused more on community building. Fans can now e-mail the organization (separate from e-mailing the webmaster), discuss the game in a Fan Forum and chat with each other or with the players. Those features help the organization to increase ‘brand loyalty’, while the visitors enjoy the information and the entertainment (see Figure 3.7). Communicative consequences The designers of the sites that had created some kind of forum or community, like the Baseball Team and the Internet Bookstore, warned that the technical consequences are relatively simple compared to the social and communicative consequences. Those applications come with a price. The facilities evoke expectations, not only about the amount and quality of input by other visitors, but also about the role of the organization or person that offers the facilities. Together with designing the facilities, the designer should plan the underlying or surrounding communication (e.g. whether or how the interaction is monitored) and regular input from the organization (e.g. recurring web events, like after-game chats with sports team members). Fleming (1998) stresses that in designing a community or a forum, it is also important for the visitors to understand what is expected of them, so part of the design process should be the design of a code of conduct for the community or forum.

Why using the web?

Figure 3.7.Visitors of Baseball Team web site, discussing the team performance (Mariners, 1999)


Showcasing technology For several organizations, the web site not only was meant to convey information, it also had to convey the image of a technology-minded organization that was on the forefront of the developments. The producer of the University web site described it as follows: “We decided that we needed something that would give the university some sort of very exceptional look and we thought we would like to do something that would be a little aggressive technically. So we would make a subliminal statement that this is a university that has really good technical resources.” (UW EL A313). In the same vein, the City created its Electronic City Hall. The first goal was to serve the citizenry, but in the background the city officials also had an interest in showing that the city has leadership in technology (PAN RZ A337).

Marketing innovation In two of the cases studied, the web sites were offered and produced by an external web design company. The vendors wanted to show the world about their innovative technology and their design skills, using the web site not only for promoting the client, but also for promoting themselves and their expertise. The firm that made the site for the Baseball team was specialized



Web Site Design is Communication Design

in innovative web site development technology. The site for the Nature Conservation was offered as a donation by a software corporation that used it as a demonstration piece for the innovative possibilities of its Internet browser (see Figure 3.8a–b). A developer of the latter site said: “It was an opportunity to show that we are a firm which can develop web sites using the newest technology that may not even be fully tested and completed… It was a good marketing move for the company as well as a good experience.” (TNC KP A113).

Short lifespan The Baseball team site designers stressed that designing a web site just to demonstrate ‘savviness’ with the technology is taking a risk. Web technology is developing so rapidly, that what looks cool and savvy today may look worn-out and outdated tomorrow. And using the newest technology and applications, might exclude part of the audience of the organization. So organizations which want to be and remain on the forefront of technology development, must plan for continuous update and redesign, since the forefront is changing so fast. The lifespan of such web sites is almost by definition short.

Figure 3.8a.Multimedia and interactive features on Nature Conservancy site (TNC, 1996)

Why using the web?

Figure 3.8b.New technology explained on Nature Conservancy site (TNC, 1996)


Joining the crowd: ‘Me too’ The last reason for using the web, as reported by the respondents, has not been mentioned very explicitly, but played a role in almost every case studied. That is the reason often indicated with ‘me too’. Someone with the power to start a project, often a person in the management, surfs on the Internet and finds a site that triggers the ‘me too’ mechanism. This is how the manager of the Traffic Flow pages described it. “Initially I heard that there is this neat cool site in California. A person from the Information Technology section said: Let me show you this. .. Seeing it, I asked them: How did they do this, what are we looking at? So what do we have to do to get up our information in the same way? .. Shortly after we saw that, we had our very primitive traffic page up. That was in 1994.” (DOT MF A166, 176).

Early adapters Some of the organizations studied were real early adapters of the web. When you think that Berners-Lee and Caillou proposed the web protocol in late 1990 and started figuring out how it should work in 1991 (see Chapter 1.2), the University for example jumped on the bandwagon in a very early stage. They started experimenting in 1993, when the browser program Mosaic (precursor of Netscape) was just becoming distributed at universities. The



Web Site Design is Communication Design

Baseball team was the first professional baseball team with a web site, including it in its communication policy from 1994 on. That same year also was the start for the City Hall site and the site of the educational agency responsible for the Year of the Reader publicity. Even those early adapters, however, said that they learned much by surfing the web and looking at how others had done it. Even in their case, the ‘me too’ mechanism has worked, be it more at the level of setting aspirations and copying particular ideas or elements from other web sites, than at the level of sparking an interest in using the web for their organizational interests.

Not just ‘me too’ Each of these reasons to start using the web, leads to its own issues to consider (see checklist in Chapter 6). These issues will give designers a lead in designing the site and assessing its effectiveness. This lead might be insufficient for organizations which decide to start using the web just for the sake of ‘me too’. Such a reason does hardly predict what the site should do for the organization. Designers of sites with that purpose might consider negotiating with their client or boss about additional purposes for the web site.

Chapter 4

The design process of web sites


Designing is deciding Designing is deciding. This chapter is about the decisions that web site designers and producers make during the design process. It is about the arguments they use to decide for a particular course of action. It is about the processes and activities they undertake to support their decisions, that is, to create arguments. And it is about the result of their decisions. The series of decisions, ranging from global, strategic decisions in the early stages of the design process to detailed production decisions when people are making pages, that series of decisions is what I will call the design process in this chapter. I will indicate the people who are making these decisions with the terms web site designer or producer, which I will use intermittently.

The myth of the ideal design process Describing the web site design process seems to imply that there is some ideal type of process, a sequence of decisions that can serve as a well-defined and manageable list of things to do. The existence of such a list is a myth. Practitioners do indeed acknowledge that they go through certain moves and take certain things into consideration when designing things like software programs, public information campaigns or buildings. But at the same time they notice that it is easier to describe in hindsight what they have done and should have done, than in advance, defining their course of action in a way that guarantees an effective product within set limits of requirements, time and resources. Situation-related factors Each design process seems to be determined by situation-related factors as well as by more general factors. One situation-related factor, for example, is the expertise of the people involved, which allows them to skip certain activities in the design process. Another factor is the time available, which forces developers to take shortcuts. Still another factor might be the availability of a clear example or a leading idea early in the design process, which serves a team as a guideline for further design decisions. The situationrelated factors make each design process different from all the previous.


Web Site Design is Communication Design

Reflection on process and product The survival strategy is to develop hindsight by reflecting on each design process. (See Figure 4.1). Continuous process and product evaluation makes designers and producers aware of the factors that determine the effectiveness of particular decisions in a particular process and a particular context. It can reveal why some design processes run smooth and easy, whereas in other processes, the team muddles through a morass of unexpected errors and comedowns. Reflection on one’s own or other people’s design decisions can help to spot potential pitfalls in the next plan and serve as a heuristic for not forgetting essential activities. But it cannot guarantee a flawless web site design process, if such a thing would even exist. The description in this chapter can add to and complete your own experiences. It is meant to replace the myth of an ideal design process by the reality of developing a repertoire of sensible approaches for various contexts.


The design process If design processes are made up of decisions and decision-supporting activities, then what are the kinds of decisions that are to be made from the moment an organization conceives the plan to make a web site until the time the web site is up and running? There are about as many design process models as designers, but although terms may differ, many have the same underlying framework. I will group the decisions and activities described in this chapter under four headings, which I have adopted from Siegel’s book about project management on the web (Siegel, 1997).

Prescription vs. description I chose Siegel’s four phases process model for structuring the content of this chapter because it is one of the few existing models specifically focused on web design processes. It is based on practitioners’ experiences, although these experiences are mostly from Siegel’s own design company and clients. It gives a helicopter view of what kinds of activities to expect in ‘ideal’ web site design processes. The following sections of this chapter and the next will demonstrate what the daily practice is in the organizations that participated in the case studies. These chapters are primarily descriptive; they focus on the activities reported by the designers and producers and their considerations when they look back to what they achieved. Chapter 6 takes their reports a step further. In that chapter, the reported activities and considerations are integrated and expanded into a (prescriptive) checklist.

The design process of web sites

Figure 4.1.Learning from previous experiences: design standards made explicit to providers of information (UW, 1999)

Phase 1: Strategy and tactics According to Siegel, in the first phase of a web site design process, organizations should decide how the web strategy fits into their overall business strategy. Then they refine the web strategy to include overall site goals, design goals, branding, user interface, and technical goals (p. 227). To put those strategies in place, the organization should write a series of short documents describing its approach. Those working documents will transform the strategy into a set of blueprints for the site (p. 234). The types of working documents Siegel is referring to, are for example user models, goals and requirements statements and site maps. Section 4.3 will describe how the organizations studied went about making strategic decisions, that is to say: if they did make any deliberately. Phase 2: Creative development Then, in Siegel’s words, the creative team starts with exploring the possibilities by generating ideas, sketches, and doodles. No one writes HTML during this phase. Designers present ideas and visualizations in mock-ups that are easy to modify (p. 243). Those mock-ups are reviewed by the producer, who plays a crucial role as an advocate for the customer. Once the look of the site and the pages is refined, they are prepared for production (p. 252). Typical deliverables in this stage of the design process are, according to Siegel,



Web Site Design is Communication Design

content schedules, initial design studies and prototypes. Section 4.4 describes what the web site designers and producers in my case studies actually did in this stage of site and page development.

Phase 3: Production Then the actual production starts. Images, HTML, sounds and animations: it must all be produced and tested (p. 258). When it works, the production manager shows the product to the world, in Siegel’s process model (p. 266). Section 4.5 describes production at page level in the cases studied. Phase 4: Launch and maintenance In phase 4 of Siegel’s sequence, everything comes together: database, visual elements and content. On a specific date the site is launched, and then starts the ongoing maintenance of the site for the next several years (p. 270). In Section 4.6 the activities and experiences of the respondents in the launch and maintenance phase of their projects will be described.


Decisions on strategy and tactics The web design process starts with preparing and making decisions on the strategic and tactical level. In Chapter 3, the reasons for considering the web as a means of communication and information distribution have been described. What did it take for the designers to develop a strategic view on what their web site should do for them and how these goals were to be accomplished? Which intermediate products or milestones did they create? The following results of strategic and tactical decision making were mentioned: – –

Goals and target groups for the site were defined. People and resources needed for producing the site were identified.

Decisions at strategic and tactical level and the issues to consider when making those decisions are the focus of checklist 1 in Chapter 6. 4.3.1 Defining goals and target groups It sounds so logical and obvious to start with a shared view on goals and target groups. Yet this happens less often than you might expect. Only in one case (out of ten), i.e. the Electronic City Hall site, the design process

The design process of web sites

actually started with stating goals and audiences. “We set up documents about the mission [of our project], things we are doing now and things we want to do in the future. What our strategy is for using the web and why the city would have a web site, and what we’re trying to accomplish with it. Managers subsequently wrote a proposal to figure out how much money we needed.” (PAN RZ A065).

Starting with content More often, initial ideas focus on content rather than goals. The director of Communications of the Nature Conservancy told how he initiated the web development in his organization. “The most important early planning stage for us was to sit down with all the department heads in our office and get their ideas, get their vision, what content did they want to see up there, what were their objectives. I was gathering information from half a dozen sources and pulling this together into an outline, defining our objectives, defining our audiences.” (TNC GT A208). Until that time, the Nature Conservancy had not been much involved with the web and some of his department heads were not knowledgeable about the medium. It would have been hard for them to define goals and audiences. That’s why it made sense in this case to merge the discussion about goals and audiences with the discussion of possible content. Because that is where the department heads were specialized in: issues in nature conservancy. Reasoning backwards, the Director of Communications analyzed their content proposals and determined what TNC’s objectives for the Web apparently were. Fit in with communication policy The web design firm that TNC worked with was at least as aware as their client that the web site should fit in the overall communication policy (see Figure 4.2). The coordinator of the design team says: “We have seen some of their policies regarding the way they choose to present themselves.” They did so for good reasons. “It was a very big discussion. A lot of the things that we or [the corporate sponsor] suggested were at odds with the goals of the Nature Conservancy. [The corporate sponsor] is very happy to work with the Nature Conservancy, so they didn’t do anything contrary to the Mission Statement, which is very strong. The site was designed to highlight that mission.” (TNC KP A154). No audience analysis Although it seems to make good sense to do so, none of the respondents described any specific activities aimed at defining the audiences the organi-



Web Site Design is Communication Design

Figure 4.2.Mission statement on Nature Conservancy site (TNC, 1996)

zations wanted to reach. The organizations were almost entirely focused on what they wanted to achieve (sender-focused communication), not on who their future visitors were and what they would do, see or experience on the site (user-focused communication). This lack of focus on the future audiences might well be caused by the novelty of the web; with such a young medium, it is hard to predict who will visit the site in a year’s time. Yet, the organizations failed to make good use of a resource they had ready at hand: information about their current audiences.

Developing a shared view Talking about goals (and audiences) seems to fulďŹ ll several purposes, in the organization in which it occurred. The clients and managers involved learned what to expect, and equally important, what not to expect. The producers of the web site increased their knowledge of the communication and business process that the site was to support or initiate. In hindsight, the

The design process of web sites

site designers remarked that when decisions about goals and audiences are not made in the early design process, lack of agreement on what actually is to be made will continuously influence the further course of action, often with delays and budget problems as a result.

Sources of information Activities for developing a shared view on goals and audiences mostly take the form of meetings. In those meetings the designers may be briefed by the client about their business strategy, mission and communication policy. Sometimes it is not the client, but the designer who has to take the lead, prompting the client to formulate their ‘brief ’. The site designers suggested that useful additional sources of information on the organization’s policy and audiences often are present, but not made available. It is worthwhile to expand the organization’s briefing by consulting marketing reports about users and target groups, mission statements, communication and business policy plans, annual reports, and financial analyses and reports. Methods for making and documenting decisions Especially in the field of designing usable software interfaces, techniques have been developed to document the decisions about goals and target groups. For example, Hackos and Redish (1998) give methods for user analysis. Mayhew (1999) suggests to create user profiles on the basis of what the designer knows about target groups. Nielsen (1994) describes various methods, among which especially user scenarios seem useful for web design. Wood (1998) describes how to work from user requirements to interface design. Those techniques can be applied in the early stages of a web site design process. 4.3.2 Inventory of resources Once it becomes clear what the main goal of the web site will be, an inventory of people and resources should be made. For example, it does not make sense to start designing a technologically sophisticated, content-rich web site that constantly needs to be updated and requires daily attention when the only person in the organization who is allocated for it, has to do it in a few spare hours and hasn’t mastered the technical skills yet.

Underestimation of work None of the organizations in the case studies prepared an inventory of resources in the initial stages of web site development. That may be the



Web Site Design is Communication Design

reason why most of the web producers reported that they had underestimated the work that was needed to create and maintain a good web site. They said planning resources was difficult at any point in the design process, since they were often doing two new things at the same time: giving computers a new role in their organizational processes and designing a new type of communication product, a web site. Yet, at the same time most of them did have a clear timeline and limited resources that defined the limits of the project, even if they did not acknowledge it in this early stage of the design process. The manager responsible for the Electronic City Hall described her planning of resources this way: “There wasn’t a lot of planning at first, but as we became more familiar with the capability of the technology, and the role it would play in the city, we could do more subsequent planning. It was such a new thing that we really didn’t know what to expect.” (PAN RZ A187). The Internet Bookstore site was conceived as an Internet business from the beginning. The founders had a business plan, but not a separate project plan for developing the site. The manager responsible for the technology said that he did not think they needed a formal plan, given the scale of the project. It seemed enough that the developers had some idea when they wanted to be done, and what the pieces were that they had to do. Yet when asked about differences between his expectations about the electronic bookstore and the reality, he remarked: “The one thing that was different from what I expected was that it all turned out to be more complicated than you would have thought.” (AM SK A192).

Goals in terms of effects Whenever goal setting was taking place, it was in meetings of the client and the designers. The people responsible for the communication or business processes were talking with those who were going to make these processes happen in a new way. Together they were working towards decisions on the concept and the scope of the design project. Since so few organizations had defined their web site’s business and communication goals and their resources in advance, they would have had problems justifying the resources spent on the web site if they were asked for that information. Expenses for the first version of a web site are often justified with the argument that the organization needs to develop expertise with the new technologies. Costs of re-design, however, often have to be justified with proof of effect (Stout, 1997). If goals and audiences are not translated into intended effects in an early stage of the design process, it will be almost impossible to assess whether they are met by the time the web site

The design process of web sites

is up and running. When data collection about effects will take place through the web site, for example by conducting an on-line survey, the design of the data collection method should be part of the design of the web site.

Checklist 1 This section and Chapter 3 are about the decisions on goals, audiences and intended use to be made early in the design process. The activities and considerations reported here are integrated in checklist 1 in Chapter 6, which poses the issues to decide on and the consequences of the various decisions.


Creative decisions When the developers of the site and the pages have a shared, although still very global, idea of what they are heading for, they start with generating ideas about what the site actually will be. Siegel (1997) calls this the phase of creative development of the site. In the organizations studied, the following ‘creative’ activities were mentioned: – – – – – – –

Defining a ‘look and feel’ for the site. Developing a global overview of the content. Organizing content into an information architecture. Developing page and HTML templates. Deciding about interaction and transaction features. Creating storyboards for sound, video, games. Designing the technical structure for the site.

4.4.1 Defining look and feel Design processes usually take off when the parties have taken a decision on a guiding idea, a vision for the product (Sharples, 1999). That idea is more than a view on the goals of the site, it also encompasses the ‘look and feel’ of the site. What do web producers do to develop that look and feel?

Choosing a metaphor In the case of the Nature Conservancy site, a lay term for bio-diversity ‘the web of life’, was associated with the Word Wide Web. The producers decided to use the web of life as a metaphor throughout the site. It became their leading idea. “We wanted to tie in with the Word Wide Web, but it is also a very imagistic phrase, that some people find very appealing, very



Web Site Design is Communication Design

poetic. That was our main metaphor, both graphically and content. Whatever the other content was: web of life, that is what we kept in the back of our minds.” (TNC, GT B315). The metaphor also helped the producers to select the style and tone of voice for the site, both verbally and visually (see Figure 4.3).

Choosing style and tone In other cases, style and tone were discussed in search of a vision that could lead the design. The manager of the team that developed the browser default start page for the Software Corporation recounts: “When we inherited the site, it was a typical corporate site. It was straightforward in writing/editing, predictable design that was unsophisticated, with no sense of a vision or a voice or long-term planning process. It was a structure to plunk in stories or pieces. We were asked to rethink it from the bottom up. We wanted people to be excited about the Internet and a subtle promotion of the web browser with the emphasis on what you can do with it. Nowhere there is talk about our browser being great. That’s not what we’re about.” (MS JL B015). Based on that vision, a lead designer developed a major design for the site. Choosing messaging For the web pages that were announcing the launch of a preliminary version of a new software product, previous experiences played an important role. “We found out that on the web your first launch creates the final impression. You can’t change the first impression. So you have to treat the first beta as final even though the features are not there. You have to create a vision for the product. We decide to actually lead with marketing messages. The navigation on it is marketing messages.” (MS, EW A251). The web producer also remarks that in a large company, such as the Software Corporation, the presentation of a particular product cannot be seen apart from the presentation of the brand it is part of. The designers have to develop a look and feel within the constraints or possibilities that the brand image offers them. Discussing examples and mockups As much as in the case of deciding about goals and audiences, the main activity in defining a vision for the site is talking. But in most cases, the talking is complemented with viewing exemplary sites of others, sketches or mock-ups (screens that look like web pages but are not functioning yet). If one of the parties involved has little experience with reviewing designs or discussing visions, talking surely is not enough. And even rough

The design process of web sites

Figure 4.3.The Web of Life metaphor that directed the design process of the Nature Conservancy, including the home page graphic (TNC, 1996)

sketches might not give a good guidance on the way to go. In the early stages of the Traffic Flow pages development, discussing other sites was the common way to get ideas about what to make, and what not. “A lot of what you see out there is stuff that we or other people have seen on the web and would think that is neat for our web site.” (DOT, MF A155). In the case of the Baseball Team site, the producers felt they had to educate their clients about the possibilities. They made a mock-up to show them what their web site could become.

Scenarios and prototypes Designers of web sites often appear to be caught between a rock and a hard place. They noted that it makes sense not to start too early with developing full-fledged pages. Who would want to spend hours or days producing them and then find out that it is not what the client is going with? At the other hand, the designers have the impression that many bosses and clients cannot see what a site is going to be on the basis of sketchy materials only. So, in order to create a good understanding of what is to be made, the designers feel they have to invest a considerable amount of time in producing prototypes. Methods which could create a middle ground between doing nothing and developing extensive prototypes, such as developing user scenarios and user profiles (as mentioned by e.g. Mayhew, 1999 and Hackos and Redish,



Web Site Design is Communication Design

1998), were not applied in this stage of the design process of the web sites studied. Only in the case of the Software Corporation’s software launch page, a department that was in close contact with the customers (in this case the marketing department) was involved in the early design decisions. 4.4.2 Content and information architecture Determining a look and feel for a site is often intertwined with determining the content and deciding on the structure of the site. Designing the structure of the site here is referred to as the information architecture, the grouping and ordering of content elements (see Figure 4.4). Underlying the architecture are the technical choices for the organization of the data, for example in directories or databases. Visitors can build up a view of the information architecture from the names of navigation buttons and links, from the presentation of blocks of text as units with headings and from site maps and other images of the site structure. A clear information structure, in combination with good navigation support, helps visitors to find the way to the available information without ‘feeling lost in hyperspace’ (see for more detail: Rosenfeld and Morville, 1998; Fleming 1998).

Navigation buttons as outline The Director of Communications of the Nature Conservancy pointed out that the web requires a new view on structuring the content in an information architecture. “Having worked primarily in print and broadcast, working on the web took a bit of a leap conceptually. The metaphor that came to my mind was that is was playing tic-tac-toe or chess in 3D. Conceptually it took a moment to grasp that. Here is how the web architecture works, you can go back and forwards, you can go up and down, you can go diagonally. It is definitely more like a three-dimensional space. From a practical production standpoint, it was helpful for me to begin understanding that.” (TNC GT A222). He used the different possible buttons on the home page of the web site as an outline and a starting point for further discussion with his content experts. Allow for flexibility The makers of the Year of the Reader site told me that it took them two weeks from initial discussion about having a web page to actually having one up. In those two weeks, three or four people sat together and discussed the basic organization and the information the site should contain. “How many divisions do you want on your index and contents page? How many links

The design process of web sites

Figure 4.4.Information structure made visible in a Table of Contents (PAN, 1999)

and layers do you want? How do you get back?” (YR, JA A193). They also realized the ephemeral qualities of what they were doing. “The most important decision that was right, I think, was to be fluid and flexible and to know that we were going to keep changing this thing constantly, even some of the basic organization.” (YR, JA A254).

Copying an existing structure In some cases the architecture of the site reflected the way the information was already available. The University had an existing linear, character-based information system when the web started to become a publication medium. Initially, the web producers decided to copy the structure of the existing system, so they could replicate the information from the old system into the web system. In retrospect, they realized that this was a bad idea. They had to go through several redesigns of the information structure and even now the site reflects its linear origin. A well-chosen and clear architecture determines to a large extent whether visitors will be able to find their way through a site easily. Hence, with hindsight, the designers thought it well worth investing time and money to determine a good structure for a site, especially when it will eventually contain a large amount of information. They did not use any method to test their information architecture before they actually produced



Web Site Design is Communication Design

all information for the site. Yet testing the information architecture with users is possible as soon as you have a global view of the content units your site will eventually contain. In Chapter 5 you will find an overview of evaluation methods, of which the sorting task is particularly suitable for testing the information architecture.

Outlines and site map A more formal approach for defining the site’s information architecture was taken by the manager responsible for the site about the software launch. She went out to discuss the approach with the marketing team and the software development team, who both had a large stake in the way the new version of the software was to be presented. Then she created a representation of the structure and content that came out of those meetings. “I create a site map in Word, because I found that outlines don’t work. I use this as an outline, so people can follow it. They need to see a visual relationship. It is also easier because they can see it at a glance.” (MS EW A251). For this site, the teams decided to lead with marketing messages, which was reflected in the navigation. Another organizing principle was audiences: How would the new software benefit each audience? The site map showed the consequences of those decisions. The manager ran several drafts of the map by the teams, finally got their approval, and then created design and HTML templates from it. Page production then took off. Time spent How much time did the designers in the case studies spend on defining the goals and audiences, the look and feel, the global content and the information architecture? For the Year of the Reader pages, the developer and his direct manager started talking and within two weeks they launched the site. In the case of the new start page for the web browser, a team of nine experts started talking (and sketching and reviewing) and needed three months of talking before they felt they could start producing pages on the basis of the prototype developed. There is no formula to calculate the time needed beforehand, but it is clear that high ambitions are often followed by high bills. 4.4.3 Decisions on interaction and transaction

Definition of interaction When people say web pages are ‘interactive’ they often mean that visitors themselves can select what parts of the information they want to be displayed, and in what order. From a communication perspective this is a very

The design process of web sites

limited view on the possibilities for interaction that web sites create. In this book, I reserve the term interaction for an exchange of information between ‘real’ people, for example between the web master and a visitor of the site. My definition of interaction excludes the situations in which visitors are acting upon the information at the web site (e.g. playing a game or selecting a piece to read) without expecting a human response.

Definition of transaction Transactions are particular kinds of interactions: exchanges of information between people or between a person and a system in order to get something done. They take place in situations in which the communication process is more or less predictable: the two parties know the script of the play they are in and the roles they are supposed to play. Transactions are often formalized in procedures, which are often presented as forms on web sites. Two examples of transactions that one can find on many web sites are ordering a product and registering as a member (see Figure 4.5). In the sites studied, the following interaction and transaction facilities were offered: – – – –

E-mail to the organization (often addressed to the organization’s webmaster). E-mail to other visitors of the site (newsgroup, discussion list). (Synchronous) chat facilities with other visitors of the site and members of the organization. Forms for transactions between organization and visitor.

Part of the design process of a web site is deciding what kind of interaction and transactions the web site should support. The interaction and transaction facilities should help to achieve the purpose of the web site, both from the organization’s perspective and from the visitor’s point of view.

‘E-mail us’ All but one organization studied put an inviting button or slogan on their sites with a request for e-mailed responses. And their users did respond, in some cases in overwhelming numbers. The director of Public Relations of the Baseball team explains how his organization deals with the e-mailed messages. “That’s where I need another person. We try to respond as best we can. Most are comments, however. On the web site, the pitching staff, overall performance of the team, or a decision to televise or not televise the game. [If it is on baseball] we make a mental note and pass it on to baseball operations people. [..] I have a list of suggestions, what people would like



Web Site Design is Communication Design

Figure 4.5.Transactions supported by a form (Amazon, 1999)

to see changed. [..] Since we are understaffed, we’re not able to answer every e-mail. We try to answer the ones that are most pressing.” (MAR DA A342, 355, 450).

Interaction among visitors Although it would have fit in the communication policy of several more organizations, only three sites support the interaction among visitors via their site. The Software Corporation offers users of a particular product access to newsgroups about security concerns. The Baseball Club has both a forum and a chat room for fans (see Figure 4.6). The Internet Bookstore provides a forum for book readers. The latter asks their customers to send in reviews, which are automatically displayed along with the titles reviewed. Other customers respond to the reviews, and thus create the electronic version of a book circle where readers discuss the books they have read. The interaction between customers is in line with the bookstore’s communication policy. They want an open, informal contact with the prospective book buyers, and give them plenty of reasons to visit and re-visit parts of the site. In the end, they hope, it will pay off in terms of book sales. Potential book buyers will have a pleasant time reading about books they are interested in, get better information about the books they are considering buying, will be more satisfied with their purchase, and hence will be more likely to

The design process of web sites

Figure 4.6.Enabling visitors to interact: Ticket exchange at the Baseball Team site (Mariners, 1999)

spend time and money again in the Internet bookstore (AM SB A162). This is an exemplary use of interaction facilities, because it matches the business goals of the web site. With hindsight, the designers noted that it obviously was not enough to put in chat rooms, user forums or e-mail forms. People who send an email, expect a personal and quick response. If the organization doesn’t have the human resources to respond to the e-mails, they unintentionally give the e-mailers the impression their response is not appreciated. Interaction facilities on the site that are not backed up by the organization, were expected to dwindle by the time the novelty wears off. That is why the design of the site should include the design of the back-office process, such as a procedure for handling visitor’s e-mail, or a clause in the baseball players contract that obliges them to take part in the on-line chats every now and then.

E-commerce Some of the sites studied included facilities to fulfill transactions. The most obvious case is the Internet Bookstore. The entire site is built around its support for sell-and-buy transactions between the merchant and the customer. The part of the site that handles the transactions is often called the ‘shopping cart’ part. Customers can indicate that they want to purchase



Web Site Design is Communication Design

particular goods and give the financial information (like credit card numbers) they need to give in order to buy something. Subsequently, the merchant offers customer services, like confirming the purchase, shipping the goods and keeping the customer informed about the status of the delivery.

Requirements for transaction Transactions are often designed as forms that visitors fill out, thus indicating what they want to get done through the site. The editor of the bookstore’s catalogue indicated the main requirements for designing the transaction pages, which contained the ‘shopping cart’ procedure. The transaction pages should help people to track where they are in the shopping procedure, all the time indicating how many books they have selected and how they can take books out. During the procedure, the final point of an order should be made very clear. And because customers worry about their privacy and about credit card fraud, the final page should contain straight-forward and reassuring information on the secure ways finances are handled. If the form is filled out, the system should reply with a message about missing information, if any. The message should contain directions about what has gone wrong and how to correct it (see Figure 4.7). All in all, the bookstore’s policy is to make the transaction so transparent, that people don’t need to call the telephone helpdesk, even if they make errors with the system (AM SB B145).

Figure 4.7.Error information (in bold and red) helps visitors to sort out their problems without assistance (Amazon, 1999)

The design process of web sites

Expectations Because so many transactions are conducted by means of forms, displaying a form creates expectations for possible transactions. The designers of the Baseball Team site discovered that it is sometimes hard to make transactions work, even though the technology might be available. “Ticketing is a good example. On the web site you can see the stadium, you can click on a seat and you will see the view from that seat (see Figure 4.8). We wanted to have a button on that screen that said: Order ticket. The transaction programs are there, we could just do it, charging your credit card. But then there is a problem with adapting the organization to the web. The ticket box is working with XXX, which sells part of the tickets. So Ticketing has to check whether the tickets you order are still available. So on the web it says: Send an order fax or call this toll-free number.” The only way to make this transaction work, is changing the business process, and that takes often much more time and effort than making it possible technically. Storyboarding A site can contain multimedia elements like ‘canned’ sound, video, and games that act as little ‘programs’ within the site. That means that visitors can start and stop the sound or video fragment or game from within the site. Although the technology that makes the sound, video or games work is intricately connected with the web site technology, the multimedia element itself can be considered a product in itself. For the design of such products, existing design procedures such as storyboarding are applied. In the site of the Nature Conservancy, a number of multimedia elements are used, including a video clip to spotlight certain nature reserves. The video clip was made by a subcontractor who made a storyboard (as usual for video clips). Part of the storyboarding was done by computer, but other parts were sketched out (TNC KP A336, 350). The Nature Conservancy team also storyboarded the whole site. First they used flow charts to show how visitors would go from one major section to the next. Then colored storyboards and design specifications were made, with exact specifications of the pages. Only after the storyboard was reviewed and approved, the actual production of pages started. 4.4.4 Designing the technical infrastructure The design of the technical infrastructure, the part that makes the web site run on a computer, is beyond the focus of this book. The technicians design the ‘machine’ of the site, whereas the designers design and produce the ‘looks’.



Web Site Design is Communication Design

Figure 4.8.Site creating but not fulfilling expectations: The seating plan was displayed, but no seat ordering facilities were offered (Mariners, 1999)

Both parties need each other to make the site work for its target groups. When strategic decisions are taken, and the look and feel of the site and its content becomes clear, technicians can start specifying what the site should do. (See Figure 4.9). Larger web sites are often based on a database, so the specification and design of the database is crucial. Site designers mostly work with software programs that relate the information in the database with their presentation on the web site. Particularly for complicated web sites, quite a bit of software design and programming expertise is required. Details on the technical aspects of web site design are not presented in this book, but that does not mean that the technical design work is less important than the communication design work. Designing the technical infrastructure is as much a process of creative problem solving as designing the pages and their content. 4.4.5 Detailed project planning Once the organizations have defined what they want their web site to do, a detailed project planning is possible. However, in eight out of the ten sites, such planning did not occur. Detailed project planning took place only later in the process or was left very implicit.

The design process of web sites

Figure 4.9.Example of HTML code

Companies that had ample experience with web design projects, such as the Software Corporation and the firm that managed the production of the Nature Conservancy site, made plans in much more detail than the other organizations. Because the Nature Conservancy site was donated by a corporate sponsor, the Conservancy was the client, but the contractors were hired by the sponsor. Four main parties and some secondary contractors were involved in making the site. At least two dozen people were working for the site at the same time, since the production time was short. All parties signed ‘a letter of understanding’ about how the project would proceed, which defined the needs and assigned tasks of the parties involved. The Nature Conservancy’s Director of Communication thought the formal agreement was indispensable in this case (TNC GT A255).

Project planning sheet The producer for the software launch site describes how she organized the project management for the production phase. Once her team had agreed on the site map and the templates, she made a detailed project plan. “I create a spreadsheet in which I actually write every single page’s URL. The friendly name of it. Who owns it. Who is the contact at Development and at Marketing. Who owns the demo, if there is a demo on the page. The date it is due.



Web Site Design is Communication Design

[..] We have [one other] tool to help us. [..] VSS is a version control, because on a web site even more than on a print or on-line help document, you have many people in the same files. So in order to work on the file, you have to check one out.” (MS EW A328).

Embedding the project in the organization The experiences of the site producers show that planning of resources, people and budget should not be limited to the production of the site. Thinking about maintenance and embedding of the web site in the organization’s policies is essential as well and should also be addressed in the planning. Web sites that are not well-embedded in the organization policy can easily become outdated, as the history of the Baseball team site illustrates. Initially the site of the Baseball Team was the responsibility of the people who oversaw the organization’s computers and network. The Director of Communications noticed that after the first year the site was not updated any more. As far as the computer people were concerned, the job was done now that the site was up and running. Because the Communications department was the major provider of the content, it took the site over, however, without any additional planning of resources. The Director’s experience, “It is bigger than we had anticipated. To do it right, we need at least one person dedicated to it. But at this point it is just part of the existing department.” (MAR DA A128). Only now that the site has been up for a number of years, has he started a line item budget for it, both for expenses and revenues. Planning beyond the site A web site might well require resources beyond production and maintenance. It might lead to changes in the organization and its business processes that result in the costs of additional people and resources. The Software Corporation, the Baseball team and the Traffic Flow site received so many email messages from site visitors that they had to hire or re-allocate personnel to handle it. The Nature Conservancy, The Electronic City Hall and the Baseball team had to match existing business processes involving form handling and ordering tickets or merchandise to the new expectations that were created by their web site. For the University and the Baseball team, the web site led to new work divisions between the internal computer services and the communication or marketing department. None of these organizations had foreseen that those changes would become an issue when they planned their site.

The design process of web sites

Creative decisions and planning: Checklist 2 This whole section on creative decisions in fact was a section on planning: planning what the product (the web site and its pages) should do and planning how to organize the process that must lead to the desired product. In the world of software and interface design, a number of analytical techniques are used to support design decisions. Very few of these techniques were mentioned by the respondents in the case studies. Had such techniques, e.g. contextual analysis (Beyer and Holzblatt, 1998), task analysis (Hackos and Redish, 1998), user scenarios (Nielsen, 1994), or user profiles (Mayhew, 1999) been used, the designers would have known better what to design and why. The ‘creative’ activities and considerations on those activities reported in this section have been integrated in the checklist in Chapter 6, particularly in Checklist 2.


Decisions in the production process In the previous section, creative development is described as making decisions about the product to be made and the way to get there. The third group of activities presented here focuses on executing the creative decisions made, that is, producing the site and the pages. In the practice of the web site designers and producers interviewed, this implies that web site producers have to make a myriad of small-scale decisions while choosing their words for the text, selecting a photo, choosing a color from their computer palette, or editing a sound track. After this cycle of many small-scale decisions, another cycle of decisions follows, either by the producer or by someone else who has a say about the page. In the second cycle, it is decided whether the product meets explicit or implicit standards, or what should be changed to get it to meet those standards. In the case studies, the respondents described their decisions and activities regarding the following topics: – – – – – –

Producing written content Producing sound and images Technical realization Review Testing Approval.

The respondents were also asked to review their own pages in great detail, thus giving insight in the production options they had considered and their



Web Site Design is Communication Design

arguments for particular options. Their comments are too detailed for extensive reporting in this section, but are integrated in the review sections of Checklist 3 in Chapter 6, which deals with production decisions. 4.5.1 Producing written content When the structure of the site is determined and the parties have agreed on the global content, page production can start. Members of the site production team or content providers within or outside the organization are creating the actual materials that will be displayed on the site. Most pages contain text and graphics, but on the sites studied one can also find canned audio fragments (University, Baseball site), real-time radio broadcasts (Baseball site), real-time video images (University, Traffic Flow pages), animations, demos and download zones (Nature Conservancy, Software Corporation sites), maps (Traffic Flow pages), games (Nature Conservancy site) and calendars (Nature Conservancy, Year of the Reader site). So the information on the pages can be presented in many different formats and modes, and that defines what the content producers are actually doing in this stage of the site production (see Figure 4.10).

Writing for the web Page production often is writing texts. Is writing for the web different from writing for other media? Several organizations in the study had guidelines for authors and web style requirements. Although most requirements concern things like the technology used, graphics size, file types or download times, some of them deal with writing. Most of the writing style requirements are similar to what you might find in good handbooks. The remarks the respondents made about their text-related decisions for the site are incorporated in the review sections of Checklist 3, Chapter 6. Besides, the writers interviewed made some more global remarks about text production for the web, which are reported below. Style of writing The editor of the Internet Bookstore stresses that web writing always is an issue of economy; there is so much you want to tell and so little space you have on a screen. Writing for the web is almost by definition writing short units of texts, and it comes with all the problems of creating coherence and cohesion. According to the editor, another characteristic of much of the text on web pages is that it is technology-oriented and jargon-loaded. That is why the writers for the bookstore try to distinguish their site by showing that

The design process of web sites

Figure 4.10.Page with information in various forms: maps, text, video images (WSDOT, 1999)

you can have fun with language while having fun with books (AM SB A551). The Style editor of the Software Corporation saw different kinds of writing merging (see Figure 4.11 below). The Corporation has two company-wide editorial style guides, one for technical documents and one for marketing documents. Since all types of information are brought together on the web, the editorial and graphical style is gradually becoming more unified (MS KD A154).

Jack of all trades? According to the manager of the browser default start page team, the most important difference between writing for the web and writing for other media is not in the text, but in the skills of the writer. Web authors cannot afford to think too long about their texts, particularly not if they are writing for a site in which the content is updated continuously. With many words added daily, it is a challenge in the first place to maintain the tone of the site. But he added, “When you write a book, you will make it the best you can because you know once it gets printed it may never get another printing and it may stay in libraries for 1000 years. So you take your time and do it right. There isn’t that luxury on the web site. You cannot spend days, weeks, months, thinking how to make this article perfect, because things are



Web Site Design is Communication Design

Figure 4.11.Various kinds of writing on one page (MS, 1999)

moving too rapidly.” (MS JL A236). He thinks web writers have to have a combination of skills, at least for highly visible web sites like the ones of the Software Corporation. They need to have technical skills, visual skills, and also interpersonal skills because they are working in a team. “You can’t have a jack-of-all-trades, but they have to be phenomenally good at a few things but also have a wide range of skills. It takes an odd bird to do this type of work.”

Consistency and multiple use Web pages are not created in a vacuum. They are going to represent the organization, as much as the brochures do, or the annual reports, television advertisements or whatever the organization uses to communicate with its audiences. So the web site has to be consistent with the image that has been created in these other media (see Figure 4.12a and 4.12b). For the Baseball site, the web producers analyzed all the printed media, including the media guides and the press information. They went through the magazines, promotion materials and logos because they wanted to keep the site with the theme that was developed for the other communication materials. Web producers sometimes hope to enhance consistency between the different communication materials by producing them for two media at the same time. That sounds like a good idea, but it is hard to make it work. For

The design process of web sites

Figure 4.12a.Sample of general design grid of Nature Conservancy site (TNC, 1996–1999)

Figure 4.12b.Sample of page that is inconsistent with general design grid (TNC, 1999)

example, the contracting web design firm who maintained the web site of the Baseball team complained: “The audio clips and the video footage are provided by the Baseball organization. We still don’t have the audio clips



Web Site Design is Communication Design

from the new season. The audio people are still not used to thinking about us. Same for the video. That’s provided by the Communications people, but they still don’t plan with us in mind.” (MAR MW A). The web is a relatively young medium, in which conventions are still developing. The novelty of the web allows the page producer a lot of freedom and at the same time creates a lot of uncertainty about what will work. This makes it attractive to copy existing materials that worked well (e.g. the paper brochures of the organization) to the web. But the writers stressed that what might work on paper, does not necessarily work on the web. Genres (document types) are often associated with particular media. For example, a manual on paper has a look and feel (both verbally and visually) that differs from an on-line help system, even if they have the same function. In the end, the decision to use existing materials to save effort, time and money might cost the organization a very dear resource: the goodwill of its web visitors.

Adapting content from others Sometimes others than the page producers are responsible for the actual content of the page. The City Hall web site, for example, gives information about numerous services and issues for citizens. Many services are provided through community agencies and non-profit organizations. The web site team is very small, so the content providers are made responsible for converting the files and updating the information. The team created the top level of the site (information architecture and graphics for the first and second layer of information) but for the actual content, they just helped the departments transfer their documents onto the city’s web site (PAN RZ B226). The team of the university site tried to maintain consistency through the site by promoting a task-oriented, user-focused approach. Yet they felt it was hard to strike a good balance between the autonomy of the content providers and the consistency of the site (UW EL B509, 517). Responsibility for content If the content providers are not knowledgeable about the web, updating their content can be cumbersome. The Communications department of the Baseball Team had to go to many different departments to update ticketing plans, seasons starts, and the many other things that are to be found on the site. “Everyone is at the user level of knowledge. No expertise. So we print it out on hard copy and they write what changes they want. We discuss it and try to make it work better for them.” (MAR DA A380).

The design process of web sites

Even when the content providers are not web-savvy, they still are coresponsible for the site as owners of the information. To acknowledge their responsibilities, the City decided to create a web management committee, with representatives of the agencies that provided the information. The University created a Web Guides Team with representatives of every department. Such an approach not only makes clear who has responsibility, but it also educates the providers and makes them committed to the web site.

Training, instead of writing The City Hall web site designers stressed that when a web production team is adapting existing documents from others for the web, it should be aware that its work is partly educational. For making the information delivery work, it is necessary to invest time in educating the information providers. The support can take the form of training, recommending tools, and providing templates or style guides. 4.5.2 Producing graphics and sound The web offers special possibilities to designers because it allows them to combine many presentation forms (see for example Figure 4.13). At the same time, it also offers lots of questions about how to combine the various presentation forms into an effective ‘document’. Even for the simplestdesigned, text-based pages, decisions have to be made about what is often called the design grid of the text: layout and typography. Additionally, web pages carry buttons, icons and links. But most web pages go beyond the elementary visual design. They can also contain graphics, as background or as illustrations, pictures, logos, tables, etc. Web document designers ideally are well-versed in combining visual design and text. The additional possibilities of sound and video have always been the domain of specialists. What activities and considerations are reported by the web designers and producers?

Visual design is essential The Director of Communications of the Nature Conservancy was clear about the role of visual design for web sites. “I think the graphical presentation is extremely important. It can be very simple, but as long as it is done well and attractively, I think it is key. There can be done so much more than simply a brochure that is on the computer. That is what a lot of web sites are, a sort of elaborate electronic brochures.” (NC GT A 393). Most site producers have decided to include photo materials, graphics, movies, audio, and video in the site because it makes the site more attrac-



Web Site Design is Communication Design

Figure 4.13.Audio as part of a document (Mariners, 1999)

tive and helps to distinguish it from its competitors. The most striking part of the University homepage, for example, is an ‘almost live’ camera view from the central plaza on campus (see Figure 4.14). “I think this turned out to be a very good idea, having the video camera shot. We have had very positive feedback from all over the world. [..] We have had lots of discussion about how to redesign our web page, but that is an element that I don’t think we will loose. One of the bad parts is that is does take a while to load on your computer if you are coming over a slow modem. There have been some tricks done to speed that up so that actually it gets painted very rapidly but very crudely, and then it is repainted again. You can always stop it, after the crude one, if you don’t want to wait. You are free to click away, to quit, or you can wait for the good pictures. So that is the down side, but we feel looking at the trade-offs that it is a positive thing for our web page.” (UW EL A 403).

Including vendors Extra multimedia facilities require special design and technical skills, and those are not always present within the organization. Although good multimedia design work is not cheap, it can be a good investment. The producers of the Year of the Reader pages had no budget to speak of, to create the site. They wrote the text on screen themselves, but felt they lacked expertise in visual design. They decided to hire a contractor, despite their modest finances. Their contractor not only designed the visuals for the first page and the index page of the site, but also helped them to clear up the information structure and the general screen layout. It cost the educational

The design process of web sites

Figure 4.14.Home page University with camera view (UW, 1999)

agency between 1,000 and 2,000 dollars, but they were sure it was worth the investment.

Photos and illustrations In contrast to the Year of the Reader site designers, the team that was responsible for the browser’s default homepage had a number of graphic designers and artists on board. (See Figure 4.15). But even then, they had photos and illustrations provided by vendors and contractors. A lead designer in the team developed the look and feel for the entire site. He developed the design grid, indicating what type of illustrations and photos were to be included in the site. His ideas were implemented by another graphic artist, who actually produced backgrounds, templates and buttons. Most photos came from external vendors. When the visual elements of the site are changing regularly, as is the case for the default start page, it takes a lot of time to make or pursue the photos and graphics. In this case, a half-time photo researcher managed the acquisitions for photo materials, including acquiring the copyrights for the photos (MS JL A316, 328). The Nature Conservancy team also employed a photo researcher for their visually rich site. Download times A special point of interest mentioned by the designers is that graphics, photos, sound and other multimedia elements take a lot of ‘space’ because



Web Site Design is Communication Design

Figure 4.15.Screen captures used as illustrations (MS, 1999)

they generally form large files. It takes visitors a long time to download them to their desktop computer. Besides, smooth integration of multimedia elements in web pages requires a good working knowledge of the technology. Because multimedia elements are costly both for the organization and for the visitor of the site, the pros and cons should be considered very carefully in the design process. The considerations that the respondents reported for particular multimedia elements in their pages are incorporated in the review sections of Checklist 3 in Chapter 6. 4.5.3 Technical realization One of the questions asked in the interviews was about the designers’ and producers’ knowledge of HTML, C++, Javascript or the many other tools that make web sites run. Anyone who checks the computer books department in a bookstore might easily become confused by the number of books related to web page design. Can web site designers and producers make decisions about web sites and pages without having gone through all those books? According to the producers interviewed, the answer is ‘Yes, but only to a certain extent’. Most of the books on the bookstore shelves are like handbooks for car mechanics; they describe how to keep the car running. But most people who use cars, are very able to think about how to make good use of their car without knowing much about what happens under the

The design process of web sites

hood. However, if the designers want something special and sophisticated, they feel they need to work closely with someone who knows everything about the underlying ‘mechanics’. The bottom line is that a beautifully designed text, graphic, or sound element only works well when it is designed in good integration with the technical means used. Knowing the technology (or being able to communicate well with the technical designers) helps to decide what is feasible in a design, and what is not.

Relation with resources Many web sites are produced by individuals who are in the same situation as the producer of the Year of the Reader pages. He had no resources to hire experts for coding, so he depended on his own skills to convert existing materials into HTML files. It is obvious that the more self-sufficient web site producers like him know about the mechanics, the more special features they can give their pages. Other web sites are produced in organizations that have more resources, like for example the Internet bookstore. The editor, who is co-responsible for the bookshop’s huge catalogue, estimates that two thirds of her team is content producers, whereas one third is ‘technical types’. The technical people at the team produce the graphics and make sure the layout is correct. Some are responsible for programming applications, which automate functions such as the self-administered interviews with authors or publishers that appear in the catalogue. The editorial people only need limited HTML expertise. They must know how to link their pieces to the books and categories in the catalogue, or to external information sources on a particular book or author (AM SB A528). Some basic skills required There is a bottom line to how much page producers need to know about web page mechanics. The manager responsible for the default homepage of the browser said: “We have producers where most of their job is thinking about how to pull information together, what types of information, how to organize and how to present it. We have what we call HTML authors, and they are the people who do the good deal of hands-on building of the pages. The way we work, it would be too cumbersome if we were so specialized that, for example, the editor always passes e-mail messages or pieces of paper to the HTML person to fix it up. So our editors and our writers can go in and fix the files, go and do edits themselves.” So even when specialized HTML authors are part of the page production team, content producers need a basic knowl-



Web Site Design is Communication Design

edge of HTML. They must speak the language of the HTML specialists and be able to do basic work on their own pieces (MS JL A330).

Broad expertise Web page production requires a broader expertise than paper page production. Web page content producers need at least two additional kinds of expertise. One already mentioned is the basic understanding of HTML; the other is a basic understanding of the multimedia design expertise the other producers — the writers, the graphic designers, the video artists, the sound engineers — bring to the page. Page producers must be able to speak each other’s language and to understand the possibilities and constraints of the various media. Otherwise, they will have a hard time creating pages on which multimedia elements are well-integrated and support each other in achieving effective communication, rather than competing for the visitors’ attention. 4.5.4 Quality check During page production, the authors have to choose among the many design options that are available to them. They themselves conduct the first quality check on their decisions and products. They are constantly reviewing their own work as it grows under their hands and on their screens. They know that every design decision is a trade-off, one way chosen among the many ways to go. That’s why they will ask others to check the quality of what they have made. The quality of a design proposal, a page element or a complete site might be assessed against explicit or implicit plans (e.g., Is this what we meant to make?) or against explicit or implicit standards (e.g., Does this page meet our style requirements? Is the navigation scheme clear?). The quality check might take different forms. The respondents in the case studies reported review cycles and test procedures, both with and without representatives of the target audiences.

What is review? Once designers and producers of pages and sites feel they have something they can show to someone else, the time comes when they will ask someone: ‘This is what I have produced so far with my site, my page, my photo. Could you take a look and tell me what you think about it?’ This request for feedback is called the review process, and producers use it as a quality check on their design decisions. The feedback is meant to lead to revisions and

The design process of web sites

improvements and is mostly invited for and collected in a very informal way. For example, the producers of the University site commented: “We released this stuff as a pilot internally and let people play with it and get feedback. We have lots of opinionated people around here.” (UW EL C120). I asked the producers about the people involved in the review processes reported in the case studies and the issues they were paying attention to while they were reviewing. The next sections will speak to these subjects.

Review by peers Often a web site producer first asked colleagues or friends for feedback on the site or pages that were being made. For the Baseball site, for example, the internal evaluation in the contracting web design firm focused on various user interfaces and was conducted by the people in the firm that were knowledgeable about the web. Some close technical friends in other computer businesses checked out the site technically. They were asked to try to break the site and to find missing links. Only after the problems found were solved, was the site offered to the client. The Baseball Team web producer added: “The client for the most part, even today, they entrust you with a lot of things.” (MAR MW B004). He considered himself a good reviewer, representing the average user, although his position in a web design firm hardly qualifies him as such. “I test a lot of things and I consider myself maybe an average user. I think for a novice user of the web, in general, it probably is a little frustrating.” (MAR MW B059). It remains unclear whether he knows enough about the real average and novice users of his site to represent their interests. Useful feedback? Having the site or pages reviewed by a fellow designer is often the easiest way. The reviewer is close at hand, is knowledgeable about web sites and the designer probably knows his or her qualities as a reviewer. It is difficult to imagine an easier way to get feedback on a site than to ask a co-worker. The drawback is that it is often unclear how the reviewers interpret their task. Are they judging the site from their expertise as a graphical designer, editor or HTML coder? If so, do they pay enough attention to the other aspects that make sites successful? Are they taking the perspective of the user? If so, aren’t they too much involved in web site design to be a good user advocate? Do they know enough of their real users to represent them? If web designers and producers have their product reviewed by peers, they must make sure that the review cycle yields the kind of feedback that the authors actually need.



Web Site Design is Communication Design

Review by specialists The second type of reviewers in the case studies were the various specialists. They were asked to give directed feedback on the site or its content. Their feedback is more predictable than the feedback of colleague designers who often comment on anything they like or dislike. For the Software Corporation, for example, each publication (including the web pages) had to meet legal requirements so they used a legal team as reviewers. The marketing collateral in the web pages had to be checked especially closely because the company wanted to protect its trademarks. Although a legal or other specialist might incidentally comment on style, design, or interaction aspects, it is not what they were asked to do and mostly they limited themselves to their field of expertise. Review by stakeholders The manager of the production team, people working in the client’s organization, representatives of the target audience, content providers, vicepresidents, and other stakeholders were asked for their feedback in one case or another. As with fellow designers, the stakeholders’ reviewing task was often left unspecified. Buy-off Sometimes it was made clear that the goal of the review went beyond mere collecting feedback for improving the site. In some cases, the product was offered for review to decision makers as a strategy to ensure their approval in a later stage. The manager of the design team describes this mix of review and approval when the ‘look and feel’ for a new default home page of the Internet browser was reviewed. “When we have something solid, we say: OK, we like these three, and we know which one we’d choose, but let’s run them all by two or three people who we work with. […] We get their feedback: Here’s what we are thinking, etc. Then we take it to heart. If they all like it, it’s easy. If some like it and some don’t, we have to sift through the feedback and figure out what we can make use of, what we can’t. In this process, we have to get ‘buy-off’ approval from vice-presidents for overall project goals in terms of what they were hoping we’d accomplish. They loved what we had done and they still love it. We get glowing e-mail from them, but sometimes they get picky and give us specific suggestions. We get many notes of positive feedback. We have to involve them. At [the Software Corporation], the word is buy-off. There are so many people affected by our web site, this buy-off is necessary from different groups and divisions to cover all the bases. […]. After that point we review with us and our own

The design process of web sites

VP’s and then we actually build the thing.” (MS JL B-284). The web producer’s description of the project makes it clear that feedback and approval are intertwined and both can be requested in several stages of site development. It is also important to note that some reviewers are selected because they have certain positions, not necessarily because they are very knowledgeable about web site design.

Review in focus groups Sometimes focus groups are used as a technique to evoke comments on a design proposal or prototype. The manager of the team developing the new default start page used focus groups in several ways. “We sometimes use focus groups. We might hire an outside company to do them around the country for us. And we get them the profile of who we think the audiences are. They try to reflect those audiences on the focus groups somehow.” (MS JL A385). The manager of the start page team explains how to use focus groups for getting input for the web site concept: “When we don’t have the time or money to do that, what we’ll sometimes do is go to a conference. For example, last year …[…]. I sent an e-mail to 2000 people, saying I’m going to be running three focus groups at the conference on our new design of the web site, we would love to get feedback. I got back 400 e-mails, and I only had room for 15 in three focus groups. [..] More and more people wanted to be in these focus groups. So, I selected by gender, race, country, parts of the US, big/small company, public/private company. I tried 48 people; I had 16 in each group. There were two things I wanted. I wanted to get individual reactions from all these types of groups. And I wanted to see how they reacted to comments of people. People have widely different needs and widely different purposes and widely different ways they use the Web. I wanted them to talk to each other and wanted to see what happened between them without an intermediary. If there’s an evident problem, and there hasn’t been one but if there was, we might do some more usability testing after we go live, more focus groups.” (MS JL A385).

Technical testing Another type of quality check is technical testing. Compared to review, testing is a more systematical inquiry in the quality of a developing product in order to improve it. The quality of a product under development can be assessed in a variety of ways, and with a variety of goals. Tests can be set up as a workout for the product by the developers, but also as a try-out with



Web Site Design is Communication Design

user representatives. The choice for particular test techniques depends on what you want to find out about the product. The range of test methods presented here and in Chapter 5 can be applied both when testing a developing product and when evaluating the quality of a finished product. In all the cases studied, some form of site and page testing occurred before the site was launched. The tests were mainly aimed at revealing technical deficiencies of the site or pages, rather than other sorts of problems. Four test topics were reported.

Testing HTML code and links The site or pages are checked for errors in the code and loose ends, such as missing links. Most of the time this was done by the technical designer, although colleagues sometimes volunteer to point out problems. The producers of the Traffic Flow site said, “There are 4 or 5 active people. Those are the kind of technically-minded people. […] They will tell us how to fix the HTML file.” (DOT GL A 238). In three cases (the Software Corporation, the Nature Conservancy and the Baseball site), a computer program was used to detect code errors. The Software Corporation even had a designated team of eight people (for the browser default start page site and other sites) to plan and conduct HTML code and link testing. The same corporation has a set of four guidelines for web sites, including technical requirements and download requirements. The testing team also checks whether the site meets those corporate requirements. Testing display on different browsers and platforms One of the problems with web sites is that they might be displayed differently on various computer types or with various browser programs (see Figure 4.16a and 4.16b). Four organizations explicitly mentioned that they tested their web site with different browsers and machines to ensure that the display of text, colors, and graphics was right in all cases. The producers of the Baseball site encountered so many problems in getting the site to work well on all types of machines and browsers that they decided to focus development on the browser program that was most widely used, ignoring the interests of users of other browser programs (MAR MW B012). Backwards compatibility In the thin guidelines for web site development at the Department of Transportation, backwards compatibility was stressed. “Essentially, the guidelines dealt with technology. One of the big keys on the guidelines was:

The design process of web sites

Figure 4.16a.Page displayed with Internet Explorer (Mariners, 1999)

Figure 4.16b.Same page, displayed with Netscape Navigator. Note the dierences in text display and in the link to SAFECO FIELD



Web Site Design is Communication Design

Don’t post web pages that are using features that are not commonly accessible in everybody’s browser.” (DOT MF A129). Hence the transportation engineer who made the Traffic Flow pages (which contained live video and dynamic maps), spent an estimated 50 percent of his time, either with finding the lowest common denominator for the previous versions of browsers and machines that still allow him to display his high-tech web site or with making alternatives for incompatible elements (see Figure 4.17a and 4.17b).

Visitors’ hardware and software Determining the type of browsers and platforms the visitors of a web site are using can be done through server log files (see Chapter 5.2). Since server logs are made only once sites are up and running, designers might try to find server log data of sites with similar target audiences. General surveys of Internet use (e.g., the GVU surveys) often ask the participants questions about the equipment and software they use. These surveys can also be a good source of information. Usability testing Several site producers evaluated the usability of their site with representatives of the target audience, although they focused on different aspects of usability. The Internet Bookstore and the Software Corporation observed users working with their site to ensure the usability of navigation bar and page layout, and the latter also consulted focus groups for opinions on the interface. The Traffic Flow people focused on download time for users. The producers of the Nature Conservancy site were particularly interested in whether or not children could use the site and observed them to find out. The range of user-focused evaluation methods is presented in Chapter 5. Iterative testing Most of the tests with users focused on the ease of navigation. The technology officer for the Internet Bookstore site explains how testing was an integral part of their design practice. “Whatever we did, we tested it on people first and tried to understand where they were getting confused. We just iterated until it seemed to work pretty well.” (AM SK A366). In the Software Corporation, usability testing is a standard part of the design process, and web teams can get usability lab support. The Style manager explains: “Almost all the bigger departments do formal testing of their design and their navigational models. The usability tests are conducted

The design process of web sites

Figure 4.17a.TraďŹƒc Flow page with all options on (WSDOT, 1999)

Figure 4.17b.Same page in text-only display format



Web Site Design is Communication Design

on four to nine users and follow a test protocol, usually requesting the users to execute specific tasks while thinking aloud. The designers are eager to know the results of the usability testing. […] People don’t even wait for the report to be written. Right after the test, they want all the highlights: What do you think we should do? […] If we watch a couple of tests and we see stuff failing, we change designs immediately. […] Sometimes, when it is not clear what directions to take from the result, then usually, there is more of a process. People try to come up with solutions, maybe retest.” (MS KD B246, B 265).

The relevance of testing The manager of the design group of the browser default start page of the Software Corporation expressed some doubts about the value of usability testing. “We hear things that we already know and we understand things they don’t. You can only test so much in a usability lab. They aren’t always aware of the trade-off. There may be five hundred needs and they can only address a few of these. […] Usability testing people may make good comments and the answers may be about the trade-offs we had to make.” (MS JL A421). Testing with users appeared to be a common design practice for designers with an interface or software design background. Hence the designers seemed to have a bias towards testing the ‘technical’ aspects of the site rather than the communication achieved. The tests focused on broken links, color, buttons, and navigation. Although these are important site and page features, it makes no sense to test them without bothering about the users’ perception of the site’s usefulness, comprehensibility and attractiveness of the content. If the test does not pay attention to such issues, designers might end up with a usable, but useless site. Editorial check Another form of testing is a check on the correctness of the content of the site. Only one of the organizations, the Software Corporation had a procedure for the editorial check, nicknamed the ‘fire drill’. “We send mail to everybody and say: OK, everybody drop what you are doing, we are about to go live with this thing and we need a fire drill on it. Everybody read it and find mistakes. This is for editing, and it’s been successful. We don’t have money for hiring a copy-editor, which we desperately need. That’s why I am going to try and schedule a two-hour block where every editor on the team spends two hours going through our site. […]. So we are just trying to find creative ways because everybody cares about it.” (MS EW B153). Contrary to what this site producer says, some organizations appear to

The design process of web sites

be more lenient towards editorial mistakes in their sites than in their paper materials. Even if they have an editorial procedure in place for their paper materials, they don’t follow that procedure for the on-line materials. A content provider for the Year of the Reader pages explains “The volume of the stuff is so great and we are in such hurry to get the thing up that people are really using that we sometimes have difficulties with our editing. So we probably have things on there that would not pass agency scrutiny as far as there might be a few typos.” (YR JA A264). 4.5.5 Approval In only a few cases, a distinct moment for formal approval was planned. The common practice was that once the decision was taken to create a site and decision-makers had had their chance to influence the product during the reviews, the web site was simply put online when it was more or less ready for publication. The producer of the Year of the Reader pages said about the approval by his director, “I generated it and asked him what he thought. It is his final decision, it has to fit in the goals and charge of the Center.” (YR GT A105).

Passing the point of no return In two cases a strict deadline had to be met. In one case, the Nature Conservancy site was donated by a corporate sponsor who wanted to demonstrate the possibilities of its new internet software. A world-wide event was planned, where application developers could go to theatres in their home countries and via satellite broadcasts see the company’s presentations live. The site was to be used for illustrating the new technologies, so the show date was a very hard deadline for the site. At the moment the world-wide event was planned, a point of no return was passed, rather casually. Whatever condition the site was in at the planned date, it would be launched. In most other cases, the deadlines were less strict, but the point of no return still appears to be passed in a similar, somewhat obscure way. The approval process in most case studies seems to be geared more toward approving defined parts of the site, often parts that were changed on the basis of comments of superiors in the review process. This practice reduces the process from approval of the site to approval of the revisions. To prevent this from happening, designers advised that organizations should set a point where the complete site is judged as passable. Criteria for the judgment should be based on global considerations, such as the following:


100 Web Site Design is Communication Design

– – –

Can the site and pages as produced be expected to achieve its intended purposes, without negative side effects? Do the site and pages as produced fit within the communication policy and styles of the organization? Can the site and pages as produced help the future visitors to fulfill their goals, and make a favorable impression at the same time?

Production decisions: Checklist 3 The production decisions, review and testing activities formed the basis of Checklist 3, which is included in Chapter 6. The reports of the approval practice have also been integrated into Checklist 4 in that chapter.


Launch and maintenance Compared to paper publication, publishing a web site is not very heroic. The site as product has no smell, no texture, no weight, compared to paper products as a manual, a brochure or a magazine. It is not a thing authors can take home, put on the coffee table, and remark casually to friends that it has been published at last. Of course, it is out there now, on the screen, but it has been on the authors’ screen as long as they were working on it. And there is a good chance that the authors will keep tinkering with the site even after it is up so they may even be denied the satisfied feeling that the work is really finished. The manager of the browser home page (which has fresh content every few days) thought web site producers needed a special mentality for this kind of work. “You have to say: I know this is not going to be as good as if I had a week, but I can fix it up as it goes up. If you can’t deal with that because your character is too rigid, then you can’t work on web sites.” (MS JL A236).

4.6.1 Being findable An important aspect of publishing on the web is that designers have to assure that people can find their web site. What did they do to direct their audience to their site? The following three activities helped web site designers make their site more findable: – – –

Advertising the site in other media Making the site retrievable for search engines Creating incoming links to the site.

The design process of web sites

Advertising the site in other media Compared to all the effort that is put into making a good site, the amount of effort that is put into making people aware of the existence of the site seems to be scarce. Only the Software Corporation and the Internet Bookstore had an explicit policy about what the web site should do compared to other communication means of the company, such as manuals, product information, leaflets, and helpdesk assistance. In their other media, they presented the web site in a way that made its intentions clear to its visitors. The other organizations just seemed to mention the web address and left it to the user to find out why they would want to go there. The organizations were not very clear about what type of information visitors could find on the site, as compared to the paper materials that carry the web address. Some parts of sites are even one-to-one copies of the brochure that carries the web address, so a customer who took the trouble of visiting the web site would not be rewarded at all for the effort. Making the site retrievable for search engines Besides advertising the site in the organization’s own media or in other places, search engines like Yahoo, Altavista, and Infoseek might be a way to direct people to your site. One of the producers of the University web site demonstrated a rather casual attitude towards being retrievable for search engines. “Early on, very soon after we released, I registered our page. That was several years ago. I don’t think it’s a problem for people to find us mostly. We are not going out of our way right now to try to make it easy to find, because I think we are in the major machines.” (UW MW C027). Meta-tags and keywords It is interesting to see how little this producer knows about her site’s scores with the various search engines. What if her site comes up as number 4,567 in a search with 13,579 hits? Or even worse, what happens when pages of her site do not show up while the information on her site is relevant for the searcher? Producers seem to be satisfied when customers can find the home page at the top level of the site, but should consider how accessible the information is on all other levels and pages of the web site. Using appropriate meta-tags (search engine markers in the HTML code) and keywords to reflect the content of lower level pages is increasingly important on larger web sites because large web sites tend to cover not only one topic, but many subtopics, which users may type into search engines to find what they are looking for. If this happens, meta-tags and keywords that describe the content of the home page or the overall site may be inadequate for helping


102 Web Site Design is Communication Design

users find more specific information that is available on lower level pages in the web site. In addition to requiring product groups that publish web pages to register them with the search engines, the Software Corporation has agreements with the different search engines for a mutual referral. The corporation gets advertisement space at the engines’ pages, and includes links to the search engines in their pages. The producer of the Year of the Reader site, who had to stretch his budgets since he had no alternative way to promote the reading campaign, ensured that the search engines would find his site in several ways. He had his site registered by some of the larger search engines and with a specialized educational clearinghouse. Besides this, he chose the titles of his web pages such that they would appear in a relevant way in a keyword search. He also added search keywords to the code of his page, knowing that some search machines begin by looking for those.

Re-designing titles and keywords Whatever way is chosen to enhance findability, it requires a directed effort and does not come cheap. If one relies on search engines, designers should be aware of the different search strategies that are built in the various search engines (see e.g. Schweibenz, 1999). Page producers indicated that they should have made design decisions on the level of keywords, titles, etc. in order to get good results with the various search engines. A source of information on what the visitors use as key words to find the site is to be found in the ‘referrer’ part of the log server data, which is collected by most web servers. Those data can not only reveal how often users arrive at a site by means of a search engine, but also what keywords they used in the search engine when they were referred to the site. This information can help in redesigning titles and keywords for an existing site (see Figure 4.18). Incoming links to the site A third way, and maybe the most effective, to generate traffic for a web site is promoting incoming links from sites that carry content of interest for your target group. Again, it is remarkable how little the producers know about who is linking to their site. Linking to other sites is one of the backbone principles of the web and it would certainly go against web ethics to refuse incoming links. Yet, it is obvious that it is a good idea to monitor the incoming links. How did the organizations studied monitor incoming links? The Software Corporation has protected its trademarks well, and at the same time offers a logo for free use. Whoever wants to use the logo, has to go

The design process of web sites 103

Figure 4.18.Search terms used most to find City Hall site (PAN, 1999)

through a sign-up form, which gives the company a starting point if they feel their logo is being used for practices they don’t want to be associated with (MS KD B205).

Linking as part of business strategy The Internet Bookstore has made the incoming links an essential part of its business strategy. They invite associates to link to their site. The editor of the book catalogue explains the system with an example: “The Nature Conservancy could be an associate. If they were, they could pick a number of nature books they think their audience might like, put it on their site, link to [the Internet Bookstore], and the store will take care of ordering and sending the books, plus we pay them a percentage for bringing in the traffic.” (AM SB A503). One of the founders of the bookstore elaborates on the underlying strategy. “The main reason we do that is to increase the awareness of our store. On the web, people find things by finding links to things. So if there are more links to you, then more people will find you. […] We have a contract with [our associates] that requires them not to misbehave in certain ways. Anyone can put links to us, but if they want us to pay them when people buy books because they are coming to us from that link, then we have an arrangement. It’s a business agreement.” (AM SK A425, A441).

104 Web Site Design is Communication Design

4.6.2 Maintenance and expansion The amount of maintenance needed for a site depends on the size and ambition of the product. It includes technical work like maintaining and upgrading servers and network. But content maintenance is often the bulk of the maintenance work. Estimations of maintenance costs of 50 to 70 percent of the initial design costs are not unusual and might even be too low for sites with daily fresh content. Every site launch, however, seems also be the starting point for a number of unexpected processes: – – – –

The content is expanded and new content is added to the point that the information architecture needs re-design. Ideas for new applications for the site start to develop. The number of hits exceeds all expectations and makes server and network upscale inevitable. The number of responses by e-mails requires staff re-allocation for handling.

Content explosion One of the traffic engineers describes what happened to the content of their Traffic Flow pages, once they started publishing. “The organization of the actual web site is beginning to fall apart, because more and more stuff has been added to these pages. These pages really haven’t been organized anymore. The most important stuff is not on the top of the page anymore.” (DOT MF A136). The solution this organization chose was to install a web steering group that was dealing with the many people claiming ownership about the content on the one hand and monitoring a rapidly growing site by defining organizational and editorial standards on the other. The task of such a steering committee seems troublesome in organizations where the content providers can act fairly independent. Planning re-design The Electronic City Hall site experienced the same problem of explosive growth of content, but knew from the beginning that they were heading for a redesign. They explained: “The first year we had an organization that put information as we got it into the different slots. We weren’t able to know all the information we were going to have and then figure out how it was all going to be interlinked. So it took a year to get a critical mass of information and then to assess what we had. Did the organization we created at the beginning make sense for the stuff we ended up getting? To some degree it

The design process of web sites 105

didn’t, to some degree it did. That’s when we did a total re-evaluation of how the system was organized.” (PAN JC A541). The City Hall team used focus groups who did a sorting task as a method to inform the re-designers. The method is described in Chapter 5.

Editorial board The producers made clear that allowing people and departments to provide content they like might be a good policy to get things started in an organization. It helps to overcome web anxiety in the organization and it makes providers responsible for the content they deliver. But web converts tend to be overzealous, which could easily lead to a web content explosion that stretches the original information architecture beyond its possibilities. Installing an editorial board with information architecture re-design as one of its responsibilities, as did the City Hall and the University, seems a good solution. Unexpected visitor and response numbers In all the cases studied, the number of hits of the sites grew far more rapidly than even the most optimistic site designer had dared to expect. The University has seen a growth of their community of users from 2000 in 1988 to 60,000 in 1997. The site of the Software Corporation counted 124 thousand page views per day in August 1995 and 8.5 million page views less than two years later. The Baseball Team site got 250,000 hits in April 1995, a number that grew to a 2.2 million hits in April 1996 and nearly 7 million hits in April 1997 (see Figure 4.19). Planning the expansion Each of the designers was pleasantly surprised by the impressive growth rate, but it came with a price tag attached. When the site was planned as just another means of communication or just another publication venue, it meant a lot of extra work and resources needed. Once a considerable number of visitors are coming to the site, the speed of the connections has to go up, the number of servers has to increase, and people have to be assigned time to maintain and update the site and answer the many e-mail messages it generates. Not planning for such growth means being overwhelmed by it. The traffic engineers of the Traffic Flow pages explained their situation. “Realistically, we probably should have a programmer on staff full-time to make enhancements to the system and we probably should have a full-time HTML type person to do the front-end work. Now it is definitely recognized as a task, but I would be really surprised if this function is written in any-

106 Web Site Design is Communication Design

Figure 4.19.Fast-growing visitor numbers (Amazon, 1999)

body’s job classification.” (DOT MF A323). The solution for the engineers is that they shed some of their day-to-day work off to someone else. It is clear that for a site with a 20,000 hits a day, a more substantial solution has to be found.

Effects on the context of the organization Changing the communication is changing the organization itself, and sometimes also the context the organization is working in. The Baseball Team site demonstrates the latter. The designers used an automatic satellite feed to update their content ‘live’ during the games of the team. It was just a small step further to start web radio. Their audio reports from their site raised the issue who in fact owned the rights for the audio reports over the Internet. They had to stop their broadcasts until legal regulations for this new technology had been straightened out. Effects on organization Most sites, however, have less far-reaching consequences, but still make a need for new business processes felt. The traffic engineers in the not-forprofit Transportation Department were thinking about selling their ‘product’ to an external market party, now it had become obvious that there was a niche in the market for it. They also mentioned that their job classification

The design process of web sites 107

system would have to change. The Baseball Team had to rethink its ticket sales policy. The University site created the demand for a support and steering committee that crossed all the traditional borders between autonomous departments. It also became clear that the web site should not be developed and maintained by the information systems people, but by the same communications department that did all other communications for the university. Such changes could and should have been foreseen, if someone had taken the effort of carefully thinking through the ways the web site could affect other parts of the organization.

Developing user scenarios Designers would like to know about the effects of the site on their organization long before the site is launched. Two strategies might help designers to predict what will happen and accommodate for it. Firstly, they could consider developing a number of scenarios. Scenarios are stories in which the designers describe how they expect various groups of visitors to be using their site (Chin a.o., 1997; Nielsen, 1994). They are mostly used to develop user-friendly systems and interfaces, but they can have a function beyond that. The design team could take such scenarios to the departments in the organization which will be affected and ask them to think through the effects that such a scenario will have on their department. Planning for site and business redesign Secondly, designers should bear in mind that sites have a short life span. They should plan a major redesign operation for the site and for the business operations surrounding the site not later than a year after the initial design. To do a well-grounded redesign, data must be collected on the site and its effects systematically. Chapter 5 describes the various procedures the organizations studied used to evaluate the effectiveness of their site. Unforeseen audiences It is not simple for organizations to predict what their audiences will be, once their web site is up and running. Almost all interviewees mentioned occurrences of unexpected visitors to their site. The Traffic Flow engineers described an unusual application of their traffic monitoring cameras. “I had a gentleman from Ohio saying that his daughter is going to school here and he did not get to see her very often. Then he discovered this camera map page. One of our cameras is located on an intersection with bridges over the Interstate. At times, when it zooms out, you can see the city streets below it. I got e-mail saying that whenever he

108 Web Site Design is Communication Design

misses his daughter, he tells her to go downtown, stand on the street and wave at the camera so he could look at her on the Internet.” (DOT GLA 380). Similarly, the home page of the University, which has a camera view of a central plaza on campus, was used by people to wave to friends abroad. However, as a result of the camera, people also remarked on the weather in Seattle. The producers then decided to add current weather information to accommodate them (see Figure 4.20).

Signaling intended audiences Some of the sites, such as the City Hall site and the Software Corporation site, are addressing the various audiences in different ways. The City Hall site’s start page, for example, already differentiates between citizens, businesses and visitors. The producers of this web site found out about their various audiences and their varying interests in the site because they conducted user surveys and brought focus groups together to discuss the purpose and content of the site. Launch, approval, and maintenance decisions: Checklist 4 Only site producers or administrators who collect data on their visitors can find out who they are actually communicating with and to what effect. That makes evaluation an indispensable activity within web site design and maintenance. Chapter 5 gives on overview of methods one can use to collect these data. The launch, approval, and maintenance decisions reported are integrated into Checklist 4 in Chapter 6.

Figure 4.20.Weather information added to the home page of the University upon request of visitors (UW, 1999)

Chapter 5

Evaluating effects


Goals and topics of evaluation In the interviews, I asked the transportation engineers of the Traffic Flow pages what they knew about the people that visited their web site. Their response was characteristic: “I don’t have any scientific data for you, but we do have information out of the e-mails. It runs the whole gambit. It’s somebody who is just surfing the net to this hard-core commuter that fights the bridge traffic every night. …I’ve gotten a lot of people saying that they use it for the weather. It seems to mean a lot to them, that is a service we are providing, it’s a wonderful side effect.” (DOT MF A369).

Evaluation is essential What makes their response so similar to the answers of the other respondents? – – – –

They have limited information about their visitors, their visitors’ actions on the site, and about the responses the site evokes. Their impressions only cover a part of the topics a web site could be evaluated for. They rely on responses from readers who react at their own initiative. They find that a considerable group of visitors visits the site for reasons quite different from the reasons the designers had in mind.

The novelty of the web as a medium makes it hard to predict what visitors will think about the organization’s web site. And, as any new medium, side effects and creative forms of use are bound to happen, and often create whole new ways of thinking about the new medium, the effects of which are hard to estimate. Because we still have so little experience with the web, systematic evaluation is essential.

Assessing effects In Chapter 4, reviewing and testing were discussed as processes of trouble shooting before the web site is made available to the public. That type of evaluation is often called formative evaluation, that is evaluation of a product under development. This chapter is about assessing the site’s


Web Site Design is Communication Design

effectiveness once it is presented to the public. The focus is now on evaluation for assessment of effectiveness and for justification of investments. This is often called summative evaluation, which is evaluation after the design process is completed. Particularly in web design, where it is so easy to tinker with an already published product, the distinction between formative and summative evaluation has become blurred. However, there is one difference. In formative evaluation, the evaluators want to detect and diagnose problems. In summative evaluation, the evaluators want to assess actual effects against intended effects and invested efforts. To do so, criteria must be defined against which the site can be judged. Those criteria have to be set in advance.

Data collection Data collection for summative evaluation often goes beyond information that directly refers to the web site. Take, for example, a web site that replaces paper documentation and offers support information for a particular piece of software. To assess whether the web site indeed provides the technical information in a cheaper and easier way, the evaluators have to collect data both on the web site and on other parts of the organization. They need figures about the costs of the paper documentation. They also must check with the help desk to see whether the number and the nature of questions have changed favorably since the introduction of the web site. Those evaluation data are collected without consulting data about the web site itself. Of course, the evaluators also need to know whether the visitors find the technical information easy to use and appreciate the medium it is delivered in. The combination of all this data can lead to a conclusion about the web site’s effectiveness. When the effectiveness of a web site is to be assessed, the desired effects should be defined in advance, and expressed in traceable visitor behavior, such as the intended drop in the number of customer questions at the helpdesk. Data collection methods should be defined, and data collection tools and methods should be integrated both in the web site and at other relevant places in the organization. Evaluation topics The topics of an evaluation project are directly related to the functions that are defined for the site. The main evaluation question is whether the intended functions are realized. But some other general topics also play a role, both in formative and summative evaluation. The topics are summarized under four headings.

Evaluating effects

1. Conditions for effectiveness Are conditions fulfilled for visitors to effectively use the web site? Can visitors find the web site? Is it announced at places where prospective users will find it? Is it found by search engines when visitors formulate search terms and queries in their own words? Is it accessible for visitors with special needs, such as auditory or visually impaired visitors? Is it also accessible in terms of the visitors’ equipment, e.g. does it load well with the speed of their modem? 2. Appreciation Do visitors appreciate the web site? Once visitors have found the organization’s site, it must attract them to go on reading and interacting. Is it clear what the site is about? Does it present the content in an attractive and appealing way, both verbally and visually? Does the home page hit the right tone for the reader? Does it promise a reward for those who continue reading? Is it entertaining and appealing in ways that fit both the goals of the organization and the goals of the visitors? 3. Usefulness Do visitors see the web site as useful? For achieving the intended effect, the web site should give the readers the impression that it contains the content (transactions, entertainment, etc.) they were looking for. Is the structure so clear that the visitors can easily find the pages that contain the content they want? Do they select the appropriate information for their goals? Do they understand the information and do they perceive it as useful, entertaining, credible, etc? 4. Functionality Does the web site fulfill the functions it was intended to fulfill? Do the visitors act indeed as the makers of the web site intended? Do they succeed in applying the information to their own situation? Do they navigate to the pages the makers wanted them to visit and do they interact with the site as desired? Do they perform activities (such as sending an answer via an e-mail form, or ordering goods from a catalogue) just as the makers of the site wanted them to? When the makers of the site want them to return, do the visitors indeed plan to visit the site again?

Planning evaluation Finding answers to evaluation questions means that you have to set up an evaluation project for your site. That includes:



Web Site Design is Communication Design

– – –

Setting up a plan to get answers to these questions Executing the plan Determining the value of the answers found.

What evaluation efforts did the companies and organizations I talked with plan and execute? What did the evaluation tell them about their site, about their visitors and about their business? What kind of decisions did they take on the basis of their findings? In the next sections, these questions are answered. The experiences of the evaluators are ordered around the methods they used to collect the data.


Server log data Web servers, the computers that host a web site and distribute the pages to the screens of the visitors, log certain data. Standard web server log files always contain data about hits, page views and visits (see Figure 5.1). But it is not at all obvious what those numbers stored by the server exactly mean. Before it is reported how the web producers interviewed made use of server log data, I will introduce the types of data collected. For a more detailed explanation, see Stout, 1997 and Buchanan & Lukaszewski, 1997.

Figure 5.1.Statistics derived from log server data (PAN, 1999)

Evaluating effects

Hits If someone requests a web page from a server, the server registers at least one hit. It means that one action took place between the server and the other computer. But each graphic on the requested page could generate another hit when it is sent out to the computer, and sometimes the graphics or even the text itself are sent in pieces and generate several hits. So, although the number of hits is often quite impressive, it does not really give a very precise idea of how much information a visitor requested and received. Each hit is recorded together with the ‘name’ or ‘address’ of the visitor’s computer and the time the transaction took place. Those data enable the site owner to track visits in detail. But again, those tracking data are not so obvious when considered in more detail. Sometimes a lot of visitors are hidden behind one computer name (called ‘proxying’), for example when many people all use the same machine of an Internet access provider to request pages. Or when one computer is being used by a number of people, which is quite common in computer labs of schools, where one student after another uses the same machine to access the Internet. Also, Internet providers often keep copies of much-requested web pages in store (caching), in order to reduce Internet traffic. These are reasons to be suspicious about hit numbers as a rate for a site’s effectiveness. Page views A somewhat better indicator of the traffic to a site is the number of page views. On the basis of the hit logs, the server stores the number of pages a particular visitor requested from the server, taking the number of transactions it needed to build up those pages on the visitor’s screen into account. Each set of hits that together builds up one page is counted as one page view. The page view number gives an idea of the number of pages a server sent out. But not each request means that the page is actually delivered. The page may not be available at the time of the request, or may not even exist. It may be that the visitor does not have permission to view the page. The number of page views does not reflect those unsuccessful requests. Visit In the same way that page views are calculated from hit logs, visits can be calculated. It means that visitors are tracked from the moment they make their first request to the server until the moment that they leave the site. Such a sequence of actions is counted as one visit.



Web Site Design is Communication Design

Point of departure, point of arrival In addition to those basic server log data, the site owner may have decided to collect more information on the visitors. An optional log file can show from which web site visitors came when they entered the site, and on which page of the site they actually entered. Often this information is collected in a separate log file so it takes an extra effort for the site owner to connect the visitors’ point of arrival with their behavior during the visit. Browser data Another additional log file can contain data about the particular browser visitors are using when requesting pages from a server. It also registers on what kind of machine and operating system the browser was running, for example on a Unix or a PC with Windows 98 (see Figure 5.2 and 5.3). Using server log data What do the organizations I spoke with tell about their use of server log data? First of all, several of the respondents expressed their doubts about the reliability of hits as a rate for the number of visitors of a site. Despite these doubts, some of them knew how to make good use of the numbers and took both strategic and page design decisions based on them. Judging the number of visitors Most organizations are using the server-collected data mainly for assessing the numbers of visitors their sites draw. The designer of the Baseball team site describes: “We have about 10 million hits a month, but that is not a very

Figure 5.2.Data about browsers used to access a site (PAN, 1999)

Evaluating effects

Figure 5.3.Browser data used for setting requirements for HTML documents (PAN, 1999)

good measure for the traffic to our site. But it is much more than we expected to have when we started. Then we were very glad with 10,000 hits a day, now we have that number even in the off-season. We had 10 million hits during the playoffs last year and now we have that number in the regular season already. We may have as many as 30 million hits this year during the playoffs.” (MAR MW A 256).

Supporting strategic decisions The visitor numbers are in some cases used to support design decisions, such as what content is liked best by the visitors of the site. But often, they are also used at a more strategic level. The manager responsible for the educational Year of the Reader pages had server-logged data analyzed on a regular basis and translated it into charts for superiors and legislators. In this way, he could justify the tax dollars spent for the first server and demonstrate the need for a new, bigger capacity server and new software. The engineers who made the Traffic Flow pages used their visitor data in the same way. The Baseball team communications manager used the visitor numbers to justify a raise of charges for his advertisers.



Web Site Design is Communication Design

Discerning visitor profiles The people responsible for the City Hall site analyzed the data to see patterns of use and were able to discern different groups of visitors who tended to visit different parts of the sites and access the site from different points of departure. On the basis of those data, they decided that, after redesign, the site should show explicit routes for the various groups of visitors. In essence, the data revealed specific audiences that the web designers were able to target in their redesign. Proving cost-effectiveness For the Year of the Reader campaign, no money was reserved and that is why the Center decided to create a web site to distribute information. They collected information on the amount of information that was sent out. “We calculate by how many pages were sent out. For a sample of documents, we calculated the size based on the bytes sent. We are using ‘bytes sent’ as a true calculation. The first month we had about 500 pages sent out a day. Now, a year and a half later, we got about the equivalent of 6500 pages sent out a day. We do not have enough money to send that out in print.” (YR GT A 186). The server data enabled the producers of the Year of the Reader site to evaluate their site against its main function: distributing information in a cheap way. Their site proved to be effective in this regard and their method of evaluation can be used for other web sites with the same goal. Supporting design decisions The Software Corporation seemed to realize that the information about its customers is an important asset. It was planning to publish the statistics on the corporation’s internal information network. Employees will be able to see the following data for every section of the corporate web site: – – – – – –

The number of page views The files accessed most often The web sites people come from What is hit on the top level page What visitors search for, if they use search facilities The search terms they use.

The data are used for a number of decisions, such as who should get services first, or to track the effects of content, design or layout changes. The design team makes decisions based on the data. For example, for a long time, an announcement of the international sites of the Software Corporation had a prominent place on the homepage. But the logged data showed that so many

Evaluating effects

other things were selected more often by the visitors, that the design team moved the feature down on the page. Other design decisions are based on what advertisements get hit most, whether they have text in them or not, their brightness, animation, etc.

Doubting the value of server log data The producer of the browser default homepage expressed doubts about what he could learn from server log data. “We can track the number of hits per page and number of ID’s, so we have a sense of the popularity of different features for different pages. We do some statistics: What types of articles are generating feedback, where is this coming from? But individual usage of the site varies tremendously. There is such variability in what people do and how they use the site. I’m not sure how useful that granularity of information would be. Grosser information is more useful. If people never hit on certain articles, that is useful. If no one goes to the tech articles, we know that our audience isn’t getting this sort of information from us. We could cut those articles and replace them.” (MS JL B402).


Cookies Since web site owners like to know more about their visitors, they have tried to overcome the limits of the information they can draw from the standard log files. Their solution is pleasantly called a ‘cookie’ and it is somewhat similar to the customer card that supermarkets hand out. A customer card contains information that helps the store owner to identify you as the particular customer you are. It shows for example that you regularly buy large amounts of pet food. Every time you shop at your store, the card is inserted in the card reader machine. The data from your card show the shop owner that you are the right person for a special promotion offer of the new brand of pet food. The advantage for you as a customer is that you get personalized service and often well-chosen special offers from your store. The consumer card is a powerful means to track consumer behavior and focus marketing efforts in ways that might benefit both the merchant and the customer.

Function of cookies A cookie has the same function as a customer card. It is a little message that the web server machine sends out to the computer of the visitor. Every time the visitor revisits the web site, the visitor’s computer makes itself known as



Web Site Design is Communication Design

the owner of this particular cookie. The cookie identifies you as a particular visitor and enables the site owner to relate your current activities (hits, page views) to your previous activities. For example, when you have given your name at an earlier visit of the site, the cookie can be used to retrieve your name and welcome you personally. It may also be used to retrieve information about pages you visited during previous site visits or even purchases you made, and then draw your attention to a promotion that fits well with your interests (see Figure 5.4).

Turning web data into marketing data In the interviews, the Software Corporation mentioned they just started to integrate the more focused consumer information they collect with methods like cookies into the information of their server logs. “We actually take [the data] mostly from people who register for products on our site, for contests. We can actually tell who visited our site, what browsers they use. We keep a lot of statistics about that. How long they stay on the site, how many pages they hit, how many times they return. We are just starting to collect that information centralized. So people would only have to fill that information out once. If they use the same machine to come back to us, they don’t have to tell their address any more, we know that. If they have already for a contest filled out what their occupation is, we might call that up. We do keep that information, it is growing. Those marketing databases are pretty big.” (MS KD A377). The statistics on web site use are gradually merging into the marketing

Figure 5.4.List of cookies for a particular computer

Evaluating effects

database. “Pretty much we have taken on the attitude that if you want to download from us, every download you should be willing to give us your name. I think for those, we actually require that. Not for documentation, but for products, executable downloads. And every contest. Most people willingly give you that for a contest. So it is a great way to collect data for promotions.” (MS KD A 491).

Support marketing strategy The Internet Bookstore technology officer described a marketing strategy that is based on the cookies they install on visitors’ machines. When someone shows interest in ordering a particular book (for example a book on web site design), the Internet Bookstore draws the attention to a number of other titles that are ordered by people who were interested in the same book on web site design. In this way, the cookies help the Internet Bookstore to direct their marketing effort and inform their customers very focused on books that probably interest them. Violation of privacy regulations is at stake when companies start collecting information on their customers, without notifying them about it and making clear what the collected data are used for. At least in a number of countries, collecting these data without warning is against privacy regulations. Often the data are stored in unsafe ways, for example accessible for system administrators who are not tied to a code of behavior or requirements of confidentiality. Newer versions of browsers notify visitors that a cookie is being placed at their machine. However, an increasing number of web sites do not allow visitors to proceed unless they accept the cookies.


E-mail to the webmaster – – – – –

An always present button on screen, inviting to ‘Mail us’ The e-mail address of the team which produced the site, at the bottom An icon, with the title Feedback “Contact us at….” “Drop us a line and let us know what you think!”

All but one of the web sites studied contained a clear invitation to send mail to the owners of the web site, often to the makers or the webmaster. The obvious intention of the invitation was asking the visitors for feedback on the site. Collecting visitor feedback is a very important evaluation strategy, and voluntary e-mail messages of visitors is a means of collecting the


120 Web Site Design is Communication Design

feedback with a minimum of effort from the organization’s side. But this easy method of collecting visitor feedback also has drawbacks that will be discussed below. Every organization in the study received an unexpected amount of email in response to their site. Visitors of the site tend to give feedback on the content of the site, technical problems or errors they have found in the site or on the site itself. The manager of the company that made the Baseball site, recounted: “The majority of the responses we get are all very positive. And then you always get some people who don’t like it. I don’t like the color. I don’t like the background, that sort of thing. Then you do get some users, we had one just the other day, [who experience technical problems], because you are dealing with a lot of different input, a lot of different electronic equipment. Sometimes it doesn’t work right, it breaks. […] Sometimes they don’t know who to send it to, so they just send it. We get a lot of: My kid likes so-and-so, so could you please send an autographed picture.” (MAR MW B029).

Supporting redesign decisions The e-mail messages were mostly read with attention, and the comments of visitors were taken to heart. Many comments lead to immediate site changes. The producer of the not-for-profit Year of the Reader site, who has no budget for systematic user evaluation, said: “The majority of the feedback is positive, praise like: I am very pleased with the service provided. There were some suggestions for change. We investigated it and said: Yes, that is a good suggestion.” (YR GT A500). A large commercial enterprise as the Internet bookstore in fact does the same. “ We get a ton of responses from customers. There’s no question about the volume of responses. Our customers are very articulate and let us know what they like and dislike. Often people write in for additional categories of features. They ask for different shipping options. […] Down to the very last part of the business. Customer service responds well to these. We have someone in the editorial group who quantifies what we hear from customers and then figures out what we have to do to improve the site for visitors.” (AM SB A418). Her colleague remarks that by the time it was decided to redesign the site, they had collected a couple of years worth of feedback from customers to start with. Overwhelming If any problem occurred to the web site producers, it might be that they were overwhelmed by the amount of voluntary responses they evoked. The

Evaluating effects

manager responsible for the browser default home page describes the problem: “I don’t have time to read them. I just don’t, but I need to because I make decisions about resources. I’m talking with my lead producers about do we need to reshape our concepts. Do we need to go a different direction? This is very important. There are always some crazy people who have a lot of time to write e-mail. It’s easy enough to identify their e-mail, but there are good pieces of information, with good criticism, suggestions. We want to see where all those things are coming from.” (MS JL A342).

Solutions for feedback overload The engineers at the Department of Transportation, who made the traffic flow web site as a side product of their traffic management system, got too many responses to handle. They decided to make ‘canned responses’, which they pasted into reply messages. They learned not to add new features on their pages without preparing a Frequently Asked Questions page to go with it (see Figure 5.5). Other organizations decided that they needed a person to handle the site-generated visitor responses. The manager of the browser default home page calls this person the ‘user advocate’. “We also have a new position on the web site. We are getting lots of e-mails. There are many good reasons to be going through them systematically, and to respond to them, categorize

Figure 5.5.A Frequently Asked Questions page used to prevent e-mail response overload (WSDOT, 1999)


122 Web Site Design is Communication Design

them, doing statistical analysis. So we have created a temporary position and I’m fighting hard to have it made into a regular position.” (MS JL A334, 349). For another set of sites of the software corporation, his colleague is developing a categorized response form. She will develop a feedback form with a subject line that helps to direct the message to the right person automatically (see also Figure 5.6).

Methodological concerns Beyond the practical problems of how to handle large amounts of visitor responses, there is a more fundamental problem with evaluating on the basis of visitors’ responses. The method does not meet minimal standards of reliable evaluation. The evaluators have no means to control that the responding visitors are a good sample of the complete intended target group of the site. The evaluators also have no control of the topic of evaluation, but are dependent on the accidental topics the senders want to comment on. The method does not comply with elementary notions of evaluation research. Yet for most of the organizations I spoke with, it was the main source of information about the effects their site had on visitors.

Figure 5.6.A form for categorized e-mail responses (Amazon, 2000)

Evaluating effects


Online survey and questionnaires When organizations want a better grasp on the relationships between visitor characteristics, usage, and opinions about the site, they might decide to do a survey among their visitors by using a questionnaire. In two cases, an online questionnaire intended to support redesign decisions was planned. The people responsible for the City Hall site described their survey as one instrument out of a mix of evaluation instruments. Their questionnaire was available on their site, hidden behind a button with the label ‘Feedback’. In their survey, the evaluators ask their visitors to give some facts about themselves — e.g., where they live, inside or outside the City — that they can correlate with the answers given on questions about the usefulness of the information provided (see Figure 5.7).

Surveys for appreciation At the time of the interview, the manager responsible for the Baseball team and the editor of the Internet Bookstore pages were planning a survey in order to find out what sections were liked and why. They considered it a regular start of a redesign process. In the Software Corporation, usability testing is a regular part of the design process. After the test sessions, participants answer some debriefing questions and fill out a standard questionnaire that includes some questions

Figure 5.7.Example of a visitor survey (PAN, 1999)


124 Web Site Design is Communication Design

on visitor characteristics. Both the debriefing interview and the questionnaire focus on attitudes and opinions about the site.

Adapting design to visitor characteristics Survey questionnaires offer the possibility to relate (self-reported) visitor characteristics to experiences with or opinions about the content or the design of the site. The findings might support redesign efforts that are focused on making the site more attractive or useful for particular groups of visitors or particular goals visitors have in mind when visiting the site. Methodological concerns In a questionnaire, the evaluator defines the scope of the answers, and hence the issues data are collected about. Open questions often remain unanswered, especially when they are asking for features or information that is missing. Closed questions will reveal not too much about visitors motives and arguments for the opinions they give. Reliable answers on surveys by questionnaires (online or other) are to be expected for questions about visitor demographics (e.g. how old are you?) or actual visitor behavior (e.g. did you visit the forum part of our web site?). But even for those fact-finding questions, it is hard to assess the reliability of the answers. Putting up a questionnaire on a site can lead to a somewhat more focused evaluation effort than just relying on visitors’ e-mails. However, as with visitors’ e-mails, the evaluator has very little control about whether the survey participants are a good representation of the site visitors in general, because they self-select themselves. 5.6

Focus groups A focus group is a group of stakeholders (e.g. customers, information providers, kids of a certain age) that is brought together to discuss the qualities of a certain product or service. The participants in the focus group are confronted with the product or service on the spot or with one that they have been using for a period of time before the focus group meeting. The evaluators select the participants and control the agenda for the meeting, but the format leaves ample room for topics that according to the participants (rather than the designers) influence the effects and perception of the site.

Supporting strategic decisions The manager responsible for the Electronic City Hall explains how focus groups are used as part of the mix of evaluation methods. “We [also] put

Evaluating effects

together focus groups of people who knew something about the web and did a lot of brainstorming about ‘who did people really think were the audience’ and what were the priorities for the audience we wanted to target.” (PAN RZ A238).

Supporting information architecture redesign Later in the redesign process, the developers of the City Hall site, used the same method again, this time in combination with a sorting task (see Section 5.7). They wanted to reorganize the content of the site and reduce the number of layers visitors had to go through in order to get to the information they were looking for. The information structure sessions were organized with three focus groups, one with the city people, one with the policy group responsible for the web site development, and one with the people in the City departments who were actually providing the information. The sorting task in combination with focus groups gave the web site designers a good start for the redesign of the information architecture of their site. Their sensible decision to involve several groups of stakeholders guaranteed that they took both the interest of the visitors and the makers of the site into account when redesigning the information structure. On the basis of the evaluation, the information architecture was adapted to the three main user groups (see Figure 5.8).

Figure 5.8.Site geared to various audiences (PAN, 1999)


126 Web Site Design is Communication Design

Methodological concerns Focus groups can be used to support design decisions in every stage of the design process. Compared to methods like surveys, very few participants are involved and drawing quantitative conclusions from the groups is not possible. However, the focus groups can give the evaluators a wealth of qualitative data about their site. When groups are composed on the basis of visitor characteristics, correlations between visitor groups and their responses might appear, although they cannot be tested statistically due to the small number of people involved. Focus groups, in fact, are review committees, and like other forms of review, the method can be used with different stakeholders. The topic of evaluation can be anything, from strategic decisions to parts of the web site that are already made public. So it can be used both as a formative and a summative evaluation method. Compared to reviewers, participants in focus groups are more often selected because they represent various visitor characteristics. The topic of evaluation is often better defined in focus groups than in review cycles. In this respect, focus groups are a more reliable method of measuring the impact of a web site. The drawback of the method is that the group dynamics of the meeting can influence the outcomes to a large extent.


Sorting tasks In a sorting task, participants are asked to sort items and then label the piles and describe the rationale behind the ordering. In two of the case studies, organizations reported that they had used the sorting task as a means to evaluate a particular feature of their site. For the City hall site, it was used to define content units that belonged together. “On picking our categories for our second level […], we did an exercise to get a feel for what made the most sense. We took 20–30 index cards and randomly picked different pieces of information from throughout the site and wrote down what that information was, like licenses. Then we gave the people the cards and we asked them to group the cards together in a way that makes sense. It was very challenging. We got a feel for what people thought the ways information should be grouped, at least in the functional categories. Whether licenses belonged with utility bills, etc. […] In focus groups we did that […] We would then tabulate everything and put it all up on the whiteboard and say: OK these are the types of categories

Evaluating effects 127

people think that make sense, let’s discuss which ones we would pick out.” (PAN JC B051).

Evaluating style consistency The Software Corporation used the method to identify salient and desired style elements. One of the people interviewed at the Software Corporation holds a function as Style Producer. Her task was to set style standards for the pages, and unify the look and feel of the site. The site of the Corporation actually consists of many different sites, with over 250,000 pages created by numerous groups within and outside the company. With such numbers, it is not surprising that its visitors have difficulty determining when they still are in the web site and when they have left it. The Style producer had to specify minimal design guidelines for the web page authors, to provide the visitors with a consistent and recognizable look (see Figure 5.9a and 5.9b). She hired an information development consultant who used the sorting task method to identify the salient features that defined visual consistency for visitors of the large composite web site of the Corporation. Fifty pages from various parts of the sites were copied and people were asked to characterize them and sort them in meaningful piles. The participants also commented on their decisions while making piles. At the end of the sorting task, they identified their most and least favorite piles and pages. Statistical analyses were performed to determine which features served best to differentiate or

Figure 5.9a.Sample page from Software Corporation site (Microsoft,1999)

128 Web Site Design is Communication Design

Figure 5.9b.Design elements defining (in-)consistency of this page with the page above (5.9a): location logo, fonts, bars, background color, location and amount of white space (Microsoft, 1999)

link pages. The design guidelines based on the study will serve as input for future design processes. They describe issues such as the text – graphics ratio, the place of navigation elements, the amount of text on a page and the color scheme of pages.


Analysis of sales and after sales data Only in one case, an organization mentioned explicitly that they collected ‘non-web’ business and marketing data on their customers to determine the effect of their site. The Internet Bookstore Technology Officer did not want to give away the details about the way the store analyzed their marketing data. He remarked: “[With regard to audience] we intend to be as broad as possible. The demographics are pretty similar to the Internet demographics. […] We don’t explicitly collect demographic information because it bothers people. We analyze our records of orders, so we know where we ship books to, what kinds of books we ship.” (AM SK A209). Aside from those mentioned, other non-web data can also serve to evaluate the effectiveness of the site. When the business is completely Internet-only, like the Bookstore, revenues and changes in revenues tell

Evaluating effects 129

something about the site. When transactions are conducted via the site, one could compare the costs per transaction in the old situation against the costs per transaction over the web. When documentation is offered over the Internet one can compare the price of print versus online, but also take the number of calls to a help desk as a measure for the success of the web site. Traditional data about business success, such as the number of complaints or return products or the answers in a customer satisfaction survey, are of course as valid when the business is conducted over the Internet.


Evaluation in design and redesign Designing is deciding. But in order to make sound decisions, designers need arguments pro and contra the options they are considering. How do web designers find or create those arguments? Often discussions about design options take the form of one belief against the other, one opinionated person against the other. Designers can take precautions to make sure that they will enter the discussion with strong arguments, rather than with private opinions.

A systematic design process First of all web producers can ensure that they have gone through a systematic design process. This book describes the many activities various experienced web designers have undertaken to ensure quality in their design process. The checklist in Chapter 6 summarizes the decisions to be taken in a systematic design process. Learn from experience of others Secondly, designers can use the experiences of others. With a relatively new medium like the web, even more than with more familiar media, designers should exchange information about ‘what works on the web’. For those who are seeking the experience of others, handbooks and guidelines abound. However, it is often not clear whether the guidelines describe another opinion or are based on some kind of empirical evidence. Designers who want to use guidelines or handbooks in order to find arguments for particular design decisions, should be aware of the limitations of the findings presented in those sources. Regrettably, most guideline authors do not make clear on what basis their guidelines are founded (for further discussion see de Jong and van der Geest, 2000).

130 Web Site Design is Communication Design

A plea for testing and evaluating The third and most effective way to decide on the soundness of a design decision is testing and evaluating. Particularly with a new medium like the web, iterative testing with real users should be integrated in all stages of the design process. Thus, designers can create a basis of knowledge about what works, which can inform further design decisions. But iterative testing is often not feasible, and designers and producers of web sites cannot suspend their work until we know more. Inevitably, they will find out more about their site once it has been published. Even after the most careful design process, they will be confronted with a constantly changing site, unintended audiences, and rapidly developing technology. That is the nature of the web. That is why evaluation and re-design of the site should be an integral part of a web site design process. In this chapter, I summarized the methods that were used for the evaluation of the 10 sites in this study. The methods used by the web producers are quite common in evaluation research and are described in more detail in usability testing handbooks (e.g. Rubin, 1994; Mayhew, 1999; Nielsen, 1994, 2000; Nielsen & Mack, 1994). The literature on evaluation research methods shows a broader gambit than has been displayed here. Evaluators must first formulate their evaluation topics in relation to the types of decisions they want to make about their organization, site, pages or features. Only then they can select an appropriate set of methods that will lead to reliable and useful data for their evaluation. “We cannot stand still” Every interview with the respondents in the case studies ended with a question about what they liked about their site as it was now. The answer of the Technology officer for the Internet Bookstore was exemplary and covered the answers of most respondents: “As one of the creators of it […] I think everything about it is good. I also think everything about it has to be improved over time. We cannot stand still, because it’s a competitive world now. So every single thing about our site is something we can look at and say: ‘Is there some way we can make this better? More fun, or provide better information?’ along with the rest of our business. […] We will keep pushing in all the directions that we can afford to push in.” (AM SK A504).

Chapter 6

Web site design is communication design


Design decisions Reading those chapters, you might have gotten the impression that web site design processes are filled with well-organized, deliberate activities by seasoned professionals who have the expertise and time at their hands to do all the things that can make web sites into a success. In fact, most respondents felt that they had learned to swim by being thrown in at the deep end. One of the reasons for participating so willingly in the case studies was that they wanted to spare others some of the uncertainties they had experienced.

Quality control I have integrated the experiences of the experts into a number of checklists. Those checklists make clear what kinds of decisions have to be made in the design process. They also indicate the issues to consider for each decision. The checklist is meant to help web site designers and producers control the quality of their design process, assuming that a carefully orchestrated design process in the end will result in better web sites. When we talk about a good site, it can mean many different things: –

The features of the site work well, e.g., the site is fast even when summoned up through a modest modem, all links work well, the information is correct, etc. The site fulfills the functions the owner intended, e.g., when the city wants to offer citizens access to its services 24 hours a day, the site is indeed on-line any time with the information on the city services. The site fulfills the expectations of its visitors, e.g. when a citizen expects to see the status of her building permit application, the site indeed enables her to find that information easily, and it is presented in a comprehensible way.

Document design processes have been described as ‘juggling acts’, and web design processes are the same, but with a greater number of balls. Designers cannot juggle with only one ball in the air at a time, e.g., making a technically perfect system but not meeting user expectations. All balls must be kept


Web Site Design is Communication Design

in the air at the same time: the technical requirements, the owners’ interests, the users’ needs, and all other aspects that together define the quality of a site. The checklists in this chapter are meant to remind designers and producers of the many aspects of web site quality they have to make decisions on during the design process.

Process-oriented The checklists in this chapter are process-oriented. At the beginning of a design process, they will help designers to get an idea of what is lying ahead of them. That’s why I advise web designers to read all five checklists before starting to work with the first one. In the midst of designing and producing a web site, a particular checklist can be helpful to make sure that designers have taken everything into account that they need to consider. Does that mean that the site itself cannot be evaluated with these checklists? Yes and no. The checklist does contain product-oriented questions, but they are primarily meant to set an agenda for review activities. If designers feel in need of more detailed product guidelines, they should refer to existing handbooks and guidelines, many of which are to be found on the web itself. Product-oriented guidelines can for example be found through van der Geest and Spyridakis (2000). Beyond the case studies The case studies formed the basis for the decisions and considerations included in the checklists. However, the checklists go beyond the sum of activities and issues reported by the organizations in the study. They were also inspired by the problems and omissions the web designers mentioned when looking back at the design process they took part in. For example, very few audience-related activities were reported for the early stages of the design process. However, several of the organizations explained that they were surprised by the actual audience their site attracted and the actual use of their site. This led me to include a number of strategies and activities in Checklist 1 that can help designers inform themselves about their audiences and their possible goals for visiting the site. Chains of decisions Design decisions are interrelated. Once one decision has been made, it limits the range of options for the following decisions. Design decisions in one stage of the process, for example on the functions the site should fulfill, create considerations and restrictions for other decisions, for example for

Web site design is communication design

the tone the writers should choose for their texts. The checklists on design decisions offered here can help designers to manage and control their design process, and at the same time create room for designing and producing communicative, effective, attractive and innovative web sites.


Checklist 1: Strategic and tactical decisions People who should be involved in strategic and tactical decisions: –

– – –

The organization’s communication manager and/or any other representative who will have to sign off on the web site and its inherent communication policy. The organization’s representative who will assign people to the project. The producer or team leader of the web production team. The lead designer.

1.1.Which goals do you want to achieve through your web site? Possible answers

Issues to consider

Providing a large amount of information

Start with analyzing the existing communication policy of your organization. Who are you addressing at the moment, what are your goals, what are your means? Make sure that you plan extensive time for designing and evaluating the information architecture. Important criteria for your site will be: clarity and consistency, navigation including search facilities. Make sure that you plan time for developing an information providers network. Organize the delivery and updating of information by training the providers, but keep quality control and major re-design projects in your own hands. Don’t forget to create an editorial or review board for the site, in which information providers are represented.

Providing rapidly changing information

Start with analyzing the existing communication policy of your organization. Who are you addressing at the moment, what are your goals, what are your means? Make sure that you plan extensive time for designing the format and the look-and-feel of the site, and for creating a series of style sheets. Format and style should guarantee consistency over a continuously changing content.


134 Web Site Design is Communication Design

Make sure that you create a large group of information providers and have them work within the format (style sheet) you have developed. Assign an in-house editor or editorial board. Timestamp the information. Make sure your visitors will have the right expectations of the rate of updating. Create a procedure for removing old stu¬ from the site. Reducing costs and e¬orts

Collect data about costs and benefits of existing procedures which are going to be replaced or completed by your web site. Quantify your goals for the web site in terms of costs and benefits. Make sure that you design data collection procedures as part of your web site. Make sure you collect the data you will need to prove the e¬ectiveness of the site. Plan extensive time for adapting and complementing existing business procedures and training the people for the new practice. Treat that as a separate, but related ‘business design’ project.

Improving customer relations

Collect data about current customer satisfaction. Quantify the goals for your web site in terms of customers’ behavior and satisfaction. Make sure that you plan extensively for the interaction through the site. Make sure you allocate people to the back-end process of answering e-mails, handling forms, etc. Plan time to design the communications that surround the web site communication, such as codes of conduct, guidelines for interaction with customers, Frequently Asked Questions sections, etc. Plan extensive time for adapting and complementing existing business procedures and training the people for the new practice. Treat that as a separate, but related ‘business design’ project. Design data collection procedures as part of your web site maintenance. Make sure you collect the data you need for proving the improved customer satisfaction.

Updating existing systems

Make a thorough inventory of technical and communicative similarities and di¬erences of the old system and the web site. Plan a complete re-design of your information or publication venue, rather than a change from one technical system to another. Plan the transition from the old into the new system as part of the design of the new system.

Creating a forum or community

Make clear for what purposes the organization enhances community-building or forum interaction. Make sure the communities and forums are designed in a way that makes them valuable both for your visitors and for the goals of your organization. Plan extensively for the interaction of your site.

Web site design is communication design

Make sure you allocate people for the back-end process. Forums and communities need input from your organization to remain interesting. Make sure your visitors have the right expectations of the amount and rate of input. Plan to design a code of conduct, as part of the design of the forum or community. Showcasing technology

Define the audiences you want to impress with your technology and assess their hardware, software and Internet-usage patterns. Be aware that the web technology is still changing so rapidly, that what looks cool today might look outdated tomorrow Plan an extensive and short update and re-design cycle (e.g. every 3–6 months), to remain innovative. Be aware that your web site might have a very short lifetime. Make sure that you will have top-level designers and developers working for your site. If not, tone down your expectations Select at least one of the functions of web sites mentioned above as an additional function for your site.

‘Me too’

Be aware that just being on the web is no longer a guarantee for attracting visitors. If you try to keep up with your competitors or your fellow organizations, collect data about the resources they have spent on their web site and the e¬ects it has for their organization. Select at least one of the functions of web sites mentioned above as an additional function for your site.

1.2.What are your audiences and how do you want to address them through your web site? Possible answers

Issues to consider

Your current web visitors

Collect evaluation data on your current web visitors, their behavior on your site and their appreciation for what you o¬er. Create user profiles of your current visitors.

Your current customers

Make sure you know your future visitor as well as possible. Make good use of the existing knowledge about your customers in your organization. Consult marketing data, talk with the people who actually meet your current customers, observe and record their contacts with customers, etc.

Your current target groups

Identify the various groups of customers on the basis of characteristics that might influence their use and appreciation of your site.


136 Web Site Design is Communication Design

Define your current customers and current target groups in terms of Internet demographics (chance that they have a computer, web use skills, Internet access, speed of access, etc.). If they don’t belong to the typical Internet users, plan extensively how you are going to bring them to the web or how you are going to serve them with a parallel system of communication. Define in which ‘role’ you want to address the visitor and, subsequently, in which role you place yourself and your organization. Think about role pairs such as buyer/seller, person with problem/support giver, information seeker/information provider, discussion partner/initiator of discussion, etc. New target groups

Define the new target groups that you want to reach through your site, both in terms of relationship with your products or services and in terms of Internet demographics. If you plan to address international or multi-cultural audiences, identify the various target groups on the basis of characteristics that might influence their use and appreciation of your site. Think about language use, use of symbols and icons, cultural values, etc. If you plan to address international or intercultural audiences, define the impact of international and intercultural customer contacts on your business and organizational processes. Define in which ‘role’ you want to address the visitor, and subsequently in which role you place yourself and your organization. Think about role pairs such as buyer/seller, person with problem/support giver, information seeker/information provider, discussion partner/initiator of discussion, etc.

1.3.What will your visitors expect to find, do or experience on your site? Possible answers

Issues to consider

That depends, it is di¬erent for each target group.

Write for each of your current and new target groups a scenario that describes for what reasons your visitor will come to your site and how they will get there. If you want to make sure that your web site is attractive for your target groups, test the scenarios with representatives of the target groups. Revise, if necessary.

Web site design is communication design

1.4.What do you want your web site to mean for your visitors? Possible answers

Issues to consider

That depends, it is di¬erent for each target group.

Expand each of the scenarios you have written with a description of satisfied visitors. What kind of behavior will they have displayed at your site? Which experiences will they have had on your site that led to their satisfaction? If you want to make sure that your web site meets the expectations of your visitors, test the scenarios with representatives of the target groups. Revise, if necessary.

1.5.How will the site a¬ect your organization? Possible answers

Issues to consider

Having a web site will not a¬ect the organization.

It is hard to imagine an organization that will NOT be affected by a change in the communication with its clients. Reread the scenarios. If you still think the web site won’t a¬ect your organization, decide whether you really need a web site that doesn’t do much for your organization. Go back to question 1.1.

That depends, it is di¬erent for di¬erent parts of the organization.

Expand each of the scenarios now with a description of what it takes to make the scenario happen. Describe how the various people or departments of your organization are a¬ected and what it takes to embed the web site in your organization’s communication policy. If you want to make sure that you are predicting the changes in your organization accurately, test the scenarios with representatives of the people and departments a¬ected. Revise, if necessary.

MILESTONE 1.Strategic requirements document Define, on the basis of the previous questions, which departments or people within your organization will have to sign off on the project. Involve those departments in the setup meetings and discuss the issues above. Decide on typical strategic issues as goals, audiences and contexts of use. Write a ‘’strategic requirements document” on the basis of your organization’s existing communication policy, the web site goals and the scenarios you have developed. Have it approved and signed off by the departments involved.



Web Site Design is Communication Design

1.6.Who and what do we need, to make a site that meets the strategic requirements? Possible answers

Issues to consider

We have the expertise and tools we need in-house.

Analyze your strategic requirements document for what those decisions could mean in term of expertise, tools and time for: Graphic design Writing Visuals and sound production Technical production. Locate the human resources available in your organization for the design and production stages of your site. If you find out human resources are not available within your organization, ensure a budget for external vendors or tone down your requirements.

We’ll work with external vendors, who will design and develop the site.

If you haven’t worked with external vendors so far, go through the results of step 1 to 5 with the web design companies you are considering for the job. Ask them to come up with a proposal and a project plan for the site. Check their plan against this set of checklists, especially for the sections on maintenance. Multiply their most pessimistic estimation of time and resources with at least a factor 2 to budget the money you need. If your budget falls short, tone down your requirements.

We will have to do the work ourselves, although we lack (part of) the skills and tools needed.

Tone down your requirements on the basis of the human resources and the time available in your organization and decide whether it can still be considered a good idea to create a web site. Take time for training and skills development before the actual design and development starts. Think about vending out small, but essential parts of the design, such as the graphics of your homepage, or the development of a style sheet that you can use throughout the site.

MILESTONE 2.Inventory of resources Make a gross list of work to be done, on the basis of the strategic requirements. Distinguish between graphics, text, visuals/sound, technical production, evaluation efforts, business process re-engineering, training, etc. Identify the people who will be doing the work. Ask them to estimate the time they will have available for the work, and compare their estimation to the time you think they will need for the work.

Web site design is communication design 139


Checklist 2: Creative decisions and project planning People who should be involved in creative decisions: –

– – – –

The organization’s communication manager and/or any other representative who will have to sign off on the web site and its inherent communication policy. The organization’s representative who will coordinate the content delivery. Lead producer or team leader of the web production team. Lead designers and writers. Technical designers.

2.1.Can you come up with a leading idea or metaphor for the site? Possible answers

Issues to consider

My organization’s or brand image suggests a particular look and feel.

Read the strategic requirements document. Then analyze the existing external communications of the organization, such as letterhead, packaging, advertisements, forms, customer magazines, etc. Review the metaphor used in the existing material and the messaging. Decide whether they are appropriate for the web site and can be adapted. Define directions and make sketches or mock-ups for a look and feel (both visually and verbally) for the web site that is di¬erent and at the same time consistent with the other materials. Review the look and feel against the strategic requirements. Don’t expect that your existing materials can be copied into your web site and still be e¬ective. Plan for the re-design and adaptation of your logo and your visual and verbal materials.

My content suggests a particRead the strategic requirements document, particularly the ular look and feel. scenarios. Then make a concise list of the main topics that will be addressed in the site. Define directions and make sketches or mock-ups for a look and feel (both visually and verbally) that suits well with the topics. Review the look and feel against the strategic requirements. It’s all open, we can come up Read the strategic requirements document, particularly the scenarios. Discuss exemplary sites of others. Make sketches or with anything we want. mock-ups. Have sites, sketches and mock-ups analyzed and discussed in meetings with the people or departments who have to approve the final design, with the people who will provide the content for the site and with the people who know your current customers and future target groups best.

140 Web Site Design is Communication Design

Then decide on a metaphor and a look and feel for the site. Review them against the strategic requirements.

2.2.What will be the main content for the site? Possible answers

Issues to consider

We can (more or less) define the content now.

Collect the people or departments who are going to provide the content for the site around the table and show them your scenarios. Don’t forget to mention the evaluation e¬orts you are planning. Then brainstorm about the topics to be included in the site. Work in a number of iterations from a topic list towards a site map, which shows the information architecture, i.e., the grouping, ordering and labeling of the content elements. Identify who has to deliver the information needed for producing the site content. Make a flow chart that shows how the main target groups (described in your scenarios) will go through the structure of your site. Revise the structure, if necessary. Evaluate your ordering and labeling of content elements, e.g., with a sorting task for providers and site visitors. Revise, if necessary. If you want to make sure your content plans meet the expectations of your future visitors, use your site map and flow chart for a mock-up and test it with representatives of your target groups. Revise, if necessary. Set up a delivery procedure and timetable. Ask the parties involved to sign o¬ on the site map and the delivery procedure. Plan a major re-design not later than a year after the start of your site.

The content will be changing Create an editorial board, responsible for the content of the continuously. site and show them your scenarios. Brainstorm about the categories of information to be included in the site. Don’t forget to mention the evaluation efforts you are planning. Work in a number of iterations towards style sheets for the various parts of the site, which define how and where the different categories of content will be presented. Ask the parties involved to sign o¬ on your site style sheets. Make a flow chart that shows how the various target groups (described in your scenarios) will go through the structure of your site. Revise the structure, if necessary.

Web site design is communication design

If you want to make sure your site style meets the expectations of your future visitors, use the style for a site prototype and evaluate it with representatives of your target groups. Revise, if necessary. Plan a major re-design not later than a year after the start of your site.

MILESTONE 3.Content list, site map/site style sheets and flow chart. The content list shows the topics that will be addressed in your site and the dates that the information will be provided for creating that content. The site map shows the information architecture, whereas the style sheets show the presentation grid for the various types of information on your site. The flow chart shows how main target groups will move through the structure of your site and when they execute common tasks and procedures.

2.3.Which interaction and transaction facilities will be o¬ered at the site? Possible answers The scenarios, look-and-feel and site map make a good starting point for specifying the interaction and transaction facilities.

Issues to consider Decide on the communicative roles the organization wants to define for the visitors and itself. Translate those roles into suitable interaction and transactions features, such as e-mail forms, forms, chat rooms, shopping cart applications, etc. Ask the technical (interaction) designer to come up with functional specifications, on the basis of the strategic requirements, the site map and the flow chart. Include a detailed estimation of the work that needs to be done, in terms of the technical design and graphic design. Specify the separate activities, order of execution, time needed, human and other resources needed. Make an inventory of the existing business processes and activities that will be a¬ected by the changed communication processes with your target groups. Consider the expectations created by the transaction and interaction features. Plan training of personnel and re-allocation of resources. Select project planning software for detailed planning.

Go back to the scenarios (checklist 1.3–1.5) and make them It is hard to specify the intermore elaborate. action and transaction faciliAdapt the content list, the site map and the flow chart acties at this point. cordingly. Test them (again) with representatives of the target groups. Then go back to the top of this question.


142 Web Site Design is Communication Design

2.4.Will the site contain demos, video’s, games, etc.? Possible answers

Issues to consider


Treat the design of the demos, games or videos as specific sub-projects. Make a separate project plan for each of those sub-projects. Combine it with the detailed project planning in consultation with the technical designer. Work this sub-project out in a storyboard. Involve at least the graphic, interaction and technical designer to create a storyboard. Have the storyboard reviewed.


Go on to the next question.

2.5.Will you need evaluation data in the future? Possible answers

Issues to consider


Make a separate evaluation project plan. Specify your evaluation questions and determine by which methods you can obtain the answers you are looking for. Specify your instruments, especially those that are distributed through the web site, such as polls taken via the site or e-mail forms for visitor feedback. Ask the technical designer to specify the requirements for collecting the data through the site. Add the planned evaluation activities to the detailed project planning, including design of the instruments, collecting and analyzing the data and reporting the results to the people involved.


Be aware that you will need evaluation data when you, at some point in the future, want to prove that your web site is worthwhile. If you are still convinced you don’t need evaluation data, proceed to next question.

2.6.What will the technical infrastructure of the site be? Possible answers

Issues to consider Ask the technical designer to write or complete functional The results of questions requirements and specifications. 2.1–2.5 make a good starting  point for specifying the Expand the detailed project plan. Ask the technical designer technical infrastructure. to specify the separate activities, order of execution, time needed, human and other resources needed.  Ask the technical designer to write the technical specifications for the infrastructure defined.

Web site design is communication design 143

It is hard to specify the technical infrastructure at this point.

Go back to the strategic requirements document and then repeat question 2.1–2.5.

2.7.How will the site a¬ect your other communications and other business processes? Possible answers

Issues to consider

The scenarios of step 1.3–1.5 Make separate project plans for the various business reengineering sub-projects identified in the previous steps. and the results of step 1.6 and 2.3 make a good starting Ask the people and departments involved to specify how point for redesigning the they plan to adapt to the changes. communications and Integrate the sub-projects in your detailed project plan. business processes. It is hard to specify the Go back to your scenarios and repeat question 2.3 and 2.5 changes in our organization together with the people and departments involved. or its communications at this point. The web site will not cause changes in my organization.

It is hard to imagine that your site will not cause any changes in your existing communications and in your organization. Why bother with the site at all, if it does not? Go back to question 1.3–1.5 and refine your scenarios. Then go through question 2.3 and 2.5 once more.

MILESTONE 4.Detailed project plan Specify the web site design project in all detail, using a project planning tool. Specify all elements of the site that need to be made, the time needed for making them, the order in which they are to be made, the people who are going to do the work, the person responsible for the element, the deadline for completion, etc. Make sure your project planning system allows you to adapt plans and to monitor progress in your project. Relate the site design plan to plans for adjacent activities, such as re-designing the other existing communications or re-engineering the business process. Ask all people or departments involved to sign off on your detailed project plan.

144 Web Site Design is Communication Design


Checklist 3: Production decisions People who should be involved in the production decisions: – – – –

Representative who is responsible for timely information delivery from the organization’s side. Content producers: Writers, editors, graphic designers, illustrators, video specialists, etc. HTML coders and programmers. Reviewers, e.g. colleagues, future content providers, content area experts, web site design experts, decision-makers.

3.1.Will you work from page and HTML templates? Possible answers

Issues to consider


Start defining your templates or style sheets. If you find this harder than you expected, make some exemplary pages for (each part of) your site and develop a style guide or template from those exemplary pages.


Working without any templates will make your site expensive to create and maintain, and it will be hard to maintain consistency after the first publication. Reconsider your decision not to use templates. Make at least a style guide for your web site, defining a design grid, location of navigation information, color scheme, typography and terminology.

3.2.Will you create a content / page production team? Possible answers

Issues to consider


Use the site map and create a schedule in which each page has a separate name. Assign each page to a particular team member and make this person responsible for meeting standards and deadlines. Define the elements on the page and who will be working on them. Store pages-in-progress in a shared database, preferably with a version control mechanism. A version control program prevents two people from working on the same page at the same time, thus eliminates the chance that there will be competing versions. Assign one team member the role of editor-in-chief for the whole site. Assign one team member the role of users’ advocate for the whole site.

Web site design is communication design

Assign one team member the role of training and coaching the information providers. No, everybody involved will help produce pages ‘as it goes’.

If everybody is involved, often nobody feels responsible. Divide the tasks and assign certain tasks (information providing, writing, graphic design, editor-in-chief) to particular people. Do all the things described above.

No, I will do it on my own.

Even if you are working alone, it is a good idea to spell out the work in a schedule. Do all the things described above.

3.3.Will you have review meetings? Possible answers

Issues to consider

No, we’ll review the things we Every design needs a fresh pair of eyes every now and then. make ‘on the fly’. Besides, review has a function beyond findings weaknesses. It creates commitment and management buy-in. Make review a systematic activity in your design process. Yes

Plan product review meetings on a regular basis, e.g. weekly. Plan the first one within a few days after the start of page production. Use the first review meetings to ensure consistency throughout the various pages. Revise the style guide or templates, if necessary. Ask team members to review the pages before the meeting, so the meeting can concentrate on solving problems, rather than on detecting them on the spot. Make notes on page printouts. Use the checklist questions 3.4–3.8 for structuring the discussion about pages in the review meetings. Consider to divide the issues in 3.4- 3.8 among the reviewers. Adapt your project plan after each review meeting, integrating the revisions proposed. Assign problems to team members. Plan some review meetings with people other than the design team. Consider focus groups with representatives of the target groups or with decision-makers in your organization. Plan at least a proof-of-concept review and a final prototype review with the decision-makers. Distinguish between review and approval. Plan a time for a formal approval decision.


146 Web Site Design is Communication Design

3.4.Review: Suitability for visitors’ and organization’s needs Site and page characteristics Issues to consider Suitable for visitors

Is the site and/or page organized around tasks of visitors, contexts for use, communicative roles? Is it clear what the site and/or page o¬ers right away? Are primary needs of visitors addressed first? Is the information presented relevant for the visitors? Applicable to their own situation? Attractive? Credible? If di¬erent target groups are addressed, is that made clear? Are special target groups made feel welcome? Is the information geared to their di¬erent needs and interests? Are target groups not bothered with information that is irrelevant to them? Are text, visuals and other elements designed with the visitors in mind? If using the site or page requires skills (like downloading a plug-in application), is support for novices provided? Is the information interesting both for first-time visitors and returning visitors? Have you catered to people with limited access to computers? To people with older systems? To people with visual or auditory disabilities?

Suitable for organization

Is the site or page recognizable as belonging to the organization? Is the logo and brand image in line with other communications? Is the communicative role of the organization clear and consistent? Does the site or page convey the desired image of the organization? Does the site or page express its intended function well?

3.5.Review: Quality of the structure of the content and the navigation Site and page characteristics Issues to consider Structure of the information

Do the home page and other main points of entrance give a clear impression of purpose and content of the site? Is the most important information presented as most important, and secondary information as secondary? Is soughtafter information easy and fast to find? Is it made easy for visitors to get a grasp of the structure of the information? Do you o¬er easy access to the information with aids like a table of content, a site map, an index, a guided tour, links for shortcuts?

Web site design is communication design 147

Is the information ordered in units that are meaningful for your visitors? Is the amount of information in the units wellchosen and balanced? Are topics or themes grouped appropriately? Are topics and themes labeled consistently, in words that are meaningful for the audience? Is the structure of the information signaled with visual means (layout and design grid, frames, colors, typography)? Is the structure of the information signaled with verbal means (headings, introductory passages, keywords, meaningful link labels)? Navigation and links

Does the navigation reflect the structure of the information? Is there a clear distinction between navigation support and content? Is navigation support omnipresent and consistent, both in style and in location on screen? Are buttons or other navigation means provided to the main sections within the site? Are links provided to all units? Is the trade-o¬ between pull-down or pop-up elements at one hand and visibility at the other hand made well? Are navigation bars not too cluttered? Is it always clear what the e¬ect will be of using browser buttons, like <Back>? Are the text or visuals on the navigation tools, links and icons legible and comprehensible? Are visuals mimicked in text? Do visitors know what to expect when they will click through? Have you supported and signaled less obvious ways of navigating, such as hotspots, if they are part of your design? Do you o¬er search facilities, when appropriate for your site? Is the search within the site well supported? Is it clear what terminology to use in the queries?

3.6.Review: Quality of the content Site and page components

Issues to consider

Informative parts of the site and pages

Is the content relevant for the visitors? Is it structured around visitors and their needs or interests? Does your content help them do things better, faster, easier, with more fun? Are the di¬erent types of content (e.g. news, games, reference, etc.) clearly distinguished? Do you have a set of Frequently Asked Questions and their answers? Is the amount of content balanced? Are di¬erent parts of the content not competing for attention? Is the most important content stressed most? Is the most important content in the most conspicuous place?

148 Web Site Design is Communication Design

Does the content sound interesting? Is it up-to-date and time-stamped? Is attention drawn to new or especially interesting content? When di¬erent units within the organization have provided content, is the balance between unity and autonomy treaded well? Is the content presented in a consistent way? If older content might be relevant for target groups, are they given access to archives? If applicable, is printing parts of the content well supported? Can visitors download the content? Instructive parts of the site and/or pages

Are the visitors treated friendly and respectfully? Does the instructive information support di¬erent kinds of visitors, such as novices versus experienced visitors, web surfers versus people who do a directed search? Is the instructive information (‘how-to-do’) clearly distinguishable from other types of content? Is it well adapted to the visitors’ prior knowledge and understanding of the context of use? Are procedures and instructions clear, intuitive, consistent, applicable? Are procedures and instructions ‘fool-proof’? Is error information available and comprehensible?

Persuasive parts of the site and/or pages

Does the content represent your organization and its services in an appropriate, credible, attractive way? Do the home page and other pages show clearly who you are? Does it demonstrate your identity or mission as an organization? Is the content appealing and enticing to go further into your site? Does it relate the theme of the content with human needs or values, with economical values, or with other interests? Does it involve the visitors? Does it create commitment? If persuasion is to be reached through argumentation, is the argumentation presented convincing? Is it convincing for opponents or people who don’t care much about the topic? Is there a good balance between your persuasive content and other advertisements and banners?

3.7.Review: Quality of text, graphics and multimedia Site and page components

Issues to consider


Does the text in the site and/or the pages have a clear tone and style? Does the style and tone represent the organization and the theme of the site or page well? Is the text appropriate for all readers?

Web site design is communication design 149

Does the text convey all the relevant information, without being longer or more di~cult than necessary? Do important things stand out? Is the text engaging, enticing to read on, well written, imaginative? Is the text not too long for the type of site or page it is included in? Is it comprehensible for the people it is meant for? Is jargon avoided or well-explained? Is the style and tone of the text consistent throughout the site? Consistent with other communication means of the organization? If existing material has been re-used, is it well-adapted? Is the text correct in every regard? Graphics

Do the site and the pages have a clear look and feel? Does the visual design represent the organization and the theme of the site or page well? Are the visual elements appropriate for all visitors? Do the visual elements strike a balance between pretty and functional? Do important things stand out? Do the visual elements convey all the relevant content, without drawing more attention to itself or taking more space than desired? Are they comprehensible for the people they are meant for? Is the content presented visually attractive, engaging, enticing to look at, well-designed, imaginative? Is the visual design not overdone? Is clutter avoided? Is it well-organized? Are diagrams well-designed and displayed? Is the visual design consistent throughout the site, or is it inconsistent for good reasons? Is it consistent with other communication means of the organization? Is there a good balance between download time and communicative value of each of the graphics? Is text used as a back-up for people who cannot or do not want to display the visuals? Are the graphics correct in every regard? Are the copyrights of others secured and respected?

Other presentations modes

Does the use of multimedia (like sound, animations, etc.) help to achieve the intended communicative purposes? Do the multi-medial elements represent the organization and the theme of the site or page well? Are they appropriate for all visitors? Do they strike a balance between pretty and functional? Are the multimedia elements well-integrated? Do they support each other? Is the relation between the diÂŹerent elements on the page made clear? Do visitors need plug-ins to play the various elements? If so, is the use of plug-ins well-supported?

150 Web Site Design is Communication Design

Is there a good balance between download time and communicative value? Is text used as a back-up for people who cannot or do not want to display the multimedia elements? Are provisions for backwards compatibility made? Are the copyrights of others secured and respected?

3.8.Review: Quality of interaction and transaction Possible answers

Issues to consider


Are the interaction facilities of the site well-chosen, given the purpose of the site? Is it clear how visitors can get in touch with an organization’s representative? Is it clear what response the visitor can expect, from whom, when? If visitors can interact with others through the site, are the rules of conduct clear? Are privacy regulations clear and are they respected? Is it clear how the organization or other visitors will and may use their contributions?


Are the transaction facilities of the site well-chosen, given the purpose of the site? Do they match the visitors’ goals, tasks and contexts of use? Is it clear what visitors are supposed to do? Are forms welldesigned, intuitive, easy to fill out? Is explanation and instruction provided? Is the procedure made clear to the visitors? Is there a logic, transparent flow from one step to the next? Do visitors get information where they are in the procedure? Do they get status information or feedback on their activities? Do they get appropriate error information, if needed? Do they get reassuring information, if concerns are to be expected? Can the visitors cancel the procedure at all times? Is the point of definitely settling the transaction made explicit? Is it clear how visitors can get in touch with the organization about their transactions? Is it made clear what information the organization collects about its visitors and how they will use this information?

Web site design is communication design

3.9.Will you conduct technical tests? Possible answers

Issues to consider

The programmers and coders Of course they do, but that is not enough. Always completest the pages while they pro- ment tests by the producers with external tests. If the site runs well on the programmers’ computers, conduct the tests from duce them. outside computers with the configurations most of your visitors will have. Yes Define a test protocol before you start testing. Define performance standards for your system, e.g. download time of graphics. Check the programming code, links and navigation options. Test your site and pages on di¬erent platforms, with di¬erent browsers. Check the backwards compatibility. Especially check transaction and interaction features. Keep a record of all observed problems and assign them to team members. Integrate the revision work in your project planning.

3.10.Will you conduct tests with users? Possible answers

Issues to consider

No, we can imagine well If you have been involved in the production process, you are enough what it is to be a visi- no longer representative for the visitors of your site. Reconsidtor of our site. er your decision. Yes

Try to find test participants among real representatives of your target group instead of among friends and family. Focus the tests on issues that came out of the review as potentially problematic for visitors. Choose an appropriate test method for the kind of evaluation questions you have, e.g. thinking-aloud sessions, focus groups. Have the site producers attend some of the test sessions or make videos of test sessions and show these to the producers. Keep a record of all observed problems and assign them to team members. Integrate the revision work in your project plan.



Web Site Design is Communication Design

MILESTONE 5.Design project documentation Don’t forget to document the developing web site and pages. Assume that you will be re-designing your web site within a year’s time but with a completely new team. Consider the information you will need to facilitate that re-design. Build up a project documentation of the various stages of your design, at least the reviewed and tested versions. Document management software can be a great help for keeping track of versions. Keep a record of test guidelines, notes from review sessions, changes proposed and effectuated. Make sure that your designers (including the technical designers) write documentation for the parts they have developed.


Checklist 4: Approval, launch and maintenance decisions People who should be involved in the approval, launch and maintenance decisions: –

– –

The organization’s communication manager and/or any other representative who will have to sign off on the web site and its inherent communication policy. The producer or team leader of the production team. The technical designers.

4.1.Will your audience be able to find your site? Possible answers

Issues to consider

Yes, we think our target groups Register your site with the search engines anyhow. Add keywords and meta-tags to your pages to make them well retrievwill find us. able for search engines. Check every now and then how your site comes up in queries with the main search engines. Analyze server log data for the keywords your visitors use to find you. Analyze the sites they are coming from when they enter your site. Consider putting links or advertisements on sites for the same target audiences you are aiming at. No

Make sure that all your other communication means (brochures, advertisements, company cars, etc) carry the URL of your site. Make sure that you create the right expectations about what visitors will find on your site. Register your site with the main search engines. Add keywords and meta-tags to your pages to make them well retrievable for search engines. Check out every now and then how your site comes up in queries.

Web site design is communication design

Analyze server log data for the keywords your visitors use to find you. Analyze the sites they are coming from when they enter your site. Consider putting links or advertisements on sites for the same target audiences you are aiming at. Encourage your visitors to return and to make a bookmark for your site. O¬er to keep them informed by e-mail about updates of your site.

4.2.Have you planned a launch date? Possible answers

Issues to consider

No, we’ll publish parts once they are ready.

Although this approach is not uncommon, it has a major drawback. Your visitors will be confronted with ‘under construction’ signs and loose ends, and hence get an undesired, unfavorable impression of your e¬orts. If you must launch the site gradually, schedule a series of launches, with distinct parts of the site added at each launch.


Schedule a formal approval procedure before the launch. Conduct a final check with the whole team before launching. If the site after launch will become the responsibility of others than the production team, make sure the new owners are wellprepared for the job. Implement the changes in your organization that you planned. Make the launch an event in your organization, ensuring that everybody is aware of the new medium and its consequences. Consider making the launch an event for your prospective visitors as well.

4.3.Have you organized content maintenance? Possible answers

Issues to consider

If you have designed a good information structure and proNo, we will see how the content will develop in the future. vided good procedures for further content development, it should be easy to add content. Yet, since adding content will always lead to inconsistencies and incoherence, you should put some extra e¬ort into it. Yes

Install a content editorial board and plan regular content review meetings. Make the board responsible for collecting evaluation data on your information structure as preparation for a redesign project.



Web Site Design is Communication Design

MILESTONE 6.Maintenance plan Your maintenance plan should specify the procedures and resources for the maintenance of your web site until the first re-design project. Topics to be covered by the plan are: – – – – –

technical maintenance and upgrading of hardware and software, regular content refresh procedures, analysis of server log data and search engine results, emergency procedures in case of content explosion, emergency procedures in case of unexpectedly low or high response rates.

Make sure that the people or departments involved in maintenance and content delivery sign off on your maintenance plan.


Checklist 5: Evaluation and re-design decisions People who should be involved in evaluation and re-design decisions – –

The organization’s communication manager. The evaluation and re-design project leader.

5.1.Have you planned the next re-design operation already? Possible answers

Issues to consider

No, we will not redesign this Even the best sites have a short lifespan. Better to plan resite; it is simply good, as it is. design up front than to be caught unprepared. No, we will plan re-design when this site doesn’t work well anymore.

You can only assess how well a site works by evaluating it carefully. Make an inventory of what you need to know before you decide to redesign.


Make an inventory of what you need to know before you redesign. Make an evaluation plan and collect the data with which you can re-design your site later. Assess quality both from the visitors’ and the organization’s perspective.

5.2.Do you want to evaluate the conditions for e¬ectiveness of the site? Possible answers

Issues to consider


An evaluation of conditions for e¬ectiveness can be conducted as an in-house review, and hence is a cheap way of collecting data. It is a good start for any evaluation project, but should be supplemented with formal evaluations. Reconsider your decision.

Web site design is communication design


Evaluate your site against your strategic requirements plan and against new insights of what the site could do for your organization and your visitors. Create an in-house review board. Divide reviewing tasks. Use checklists or guidelines such as in 3.4–3.8. Review findability of the site; accessibility for visitors with special needs, including equipment limitations; code and link errors; information structure and navigation; text, graphics and multimedia; interaction and transaction; consistency and correctness. Make a priority ranking of problems observed. Give priority to problems that seriously a¬ect e¬ectiveness and to problems that are easy to solve. Use the reviewers’ feedback to focus your evaluation with users.

5.3.Do you want to evaluate the e¬ectiveness of the site? Possible answers

Issues to consider


If you cannot prove the e¬ectiveness of the site, i.e., demonstrate a strong correlation between its intended and actual e¬ects, you will not be able to justify the costs involved. Reconsider your decision.


Define e¬ectiveness for the various groups of stakeholders, including your various target groups. Collect and analyze e-mailed responses of visitors on issues that appear to a¬ect e¬ectiveness. Combine large-scale quantitative instruments (like a survey with a questionnaire) with detailed qualitative instruments (like observations, interviews or focus groups). Thus, you will both have a general overview of your respondents’ opinions of the e¬ectiveness of your site, and their underlying reasons and arguments. Make sure your survey is sent out to a representative sample of your target groups. Track a sample of visits to your site with the help of cookies. Compare the actual visit with the intended behavior on site. Use server data to track pages visited most and least. Compare with intended behavior on site. Make a priority ranking of problems observed. Give priority to problems that seriously a¬ect e¬ectiveness and give higher rankings to problems that are easy to solve.


156 Web Site Design is Communication Design

5.4.Do you want to evaluate the cost-e¬ectiveness of the site? Possible answers

Issues to consider


Even if you do not have to justify your investments, it might be worthwhile to at least control visitor numbers and amount of information sent out regularly. Server data analysis can give you these statistics easily.


On the basis of your project documentation you should be able to calculate the costs of developing and maintaining the site. Make sure you have collected data on business processes that you are replacing by or completing with web transactions. Quantify both the traditional processes and the web processes in terms of costs and benefits. Make sure that your data allow you to make the comparison. User server log data and cookies to calculate numbers of visitors, amount of information sent out, etc. Use transaction and sales data to determine e¬ectiveness.

5.5.Do you want to evaluate the ease of use of the site? Possible answers

Issues to consider


Usability testing should be built in throughout the design process, so by the time the site is published you should have a good view of the ease of use of your site. However, actual audiences may be quite di¬erent from intended target groups, and that is a good reason for further usability testing after publication of the site.


Use server data to analyze where your visitors came from and how they found you. Observe a number of representative visitors while they find and use your site, and ask them to think aloud. Let them both browse freely and do defined, exemplary tasks. Focus your analysis on clarity of information structure, navigation and interface issues. Evaluation questions are: – Are visitors able to perform the tasks? – Do they perform them in the most e~cient way? – Do they perform their tasks within reasonable time limits? Define the number of test participants on the basis of the variety within your audience, e.g. experienced computer users versus novices, first-time visitors versus regulars. The wider the variety, the more participants you will need. Include some visitors with special needs, including equipment limitations.

Web site design is communication design

Make videotapes of the observed sessions for the re-designers. Make a priority ranking of problems observed. Give priority to problems that seriously a¬ect e¬ectiveness and higher rankings to problems that are easy to solve.

5.6.Do you want to evaluate the quality of the content of the site? Possible answers

Issues to consider


Since the content of your site changes over time, you will need to evaluate the quality of the content for re-design.


Evaluate the ordering and labeling of the content, e.g. with a sorting task executed in focus groups. Make sure that both the providers of the content and your visitors have a chance to define their favorite information structure. Observe a number of representative visitors while they use your site, and ask them to think aloud. Let them both browse freely and do defined, exemplary tasks. Focus your analysis on applicability and comprehensibility of the content. Evaluation questions are: – Are visitors able to identify the information they need? – Does it suit their needs and interests – Do they perceive it as informative, useful, credible, attractive? Define the number of test participants on the basis of the variety within your audience, e.g. long-time users of your products versus prospective buyers, international versus regional customers, etc. The wider the variety, the more participants you will need. Make videotapes of the observed sessions for the content providers. Make a priority ranking of problems observed. Give priority to problems that seriously a¬ect e¬ectiveness and problems that are easy to solve.

5.7.Do you want to evaluate your visitors’ appreciation for the site? Possible answers

Issues to consider


For evaluators, appreciation questions are hard questions and answers are notably unreliable. Only evaluate for appreciation if you are sure you will use the findings. Combine it with one of the evaluation topics above.



Web Site Design is Communication Design


Observed user behavior and real-time expressions of appreciation (e.g. during observed sessions) are better sources of information than the typical five-point scale scores. Ask for factors a¬ecting the appreciation rather than for appreciation scores. If you want to use large-scale quantitative instruments (like a survey with a questionnaire), complement it with detailed qualitative instruments (like interviews or focus groups). Thus, you will both have a general overview of factors a¬ecting your respondents’ appreciation, and their underlying reasons and arguments. Make sure your survey is sent out to a representative sample of your target groups. Make a priority ranking of factors a¬ecting appreciation negatively. Give priority to problems that seriously a¬ect e¬ectiveness and give higher rankings to problems that are easy to solve.

MILESTONE 7.Evaluation plan Plan the evaluation as a separate project. Specify the topics you want to know more about and the criteria your site should meet. Choose the data collection methods that will give you the information you need. Design your evaluation instruments, such as questionnaires, user tasks, etc. Define how you will analyze and report your findings to the managers and designers, including priority ranking of problems found. Plan the time and resources needed to conduct the evaluation. Compare the costs of conducting the evaluation yourself against the costs of an external, specialized vendor.

MILESTONE 8.Redesign plan On the basis of the findings in the evaluation project, redesign can be planned. The redesign plan starts with a list of problems with the current site and their severity. Then, the redesign plan follows the course of a design project. It should at least contain a revised strategic requirements document, a new inventory of resources, and an adapted content list and site map. Ask the people involved to signoff on your redesign plan before you proceed into further creative development and production.


Web sites selected for case studies Amazon (1999). CSIL (1999). (Center for the Improvement of Student Learning) Currently PAN (1999). (Public access network City of Seattle) Mariners (1999). (Mariners Baseball team) http:// Microsoft a (1999) Currently Microsoft b (1999) Currently Microsoft c (1999) TNC (1999). (The Nature Conservancy of Washington) UW (1999). (University of Washington) WSDOT (1999). (Washington State Department of Transportation)

160 References

Documents Beyer, H. & Holzblatt K. (1998). Contextual Design: Defining CustomerCentered Systems. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann. Bharat, K., & Broder, A. (1999). Measured State of Search Engines over Time. Buchanan, Robert.W. Jr. & Lukaszewski, Charles (1997). Measuring the Impact of Your Web Site. Proven Yardsticks for Evaluating. New York, etc.: John Wiley. Chin, G., Jr., M. B. Rosson, & J. Carroll (1997). Participatory Analysis: Shared Development of Requirements from Scenarios. CHI’97 Proceedings: 162–169. Constantine, L. L. & Lockwood, L. A. D (1999). Software for Use: A Practical Guide to the Models and Methods of Usage Centered Design. Reading (MA), etc.: Addison-Wesley. De Jong, Menno & van der Geest, Thea (2000). Characterizing Web Heuristics. Technical Communication, 47, 311–326. Farkas, David K. & Farkas, Jean B. (2000). Guidelines for Designing Web Navigation. Technical Communication, 47, 341–358. Fleming, Jennifer (1998). Web Navigation. Designing the User Experience. Beijing, etc.: O’Reilly. Global Reach (2000). Global Internet Statistics (By Language). (Consulted May 2000). Gromov, G. R. (1995–1998). History of Internet and WWW. The Roads and Crossroads of Internet History. (Consulted May 2000). GVU (1998). GVU’s 9th WWW User Survey.–04/ GVU (1999). GVU’s WWW User Surveys. Hackos, J. T., & Redish, J. C. (1998). User and Task Analysis for Interface Design. New York, etc.: John Wiley. Library of Congress (1998). Internet Statistics and Demographics. Internet Software Consortium (2000). Internet Domain Survey Host Count. (Consulted May 2000). Mayhew, Deborah J.(1999). The Usability Engineering Lifecycle. A practitioner’s handbook for user interface design. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann.


Nielsen, Jakob. (1994). Usability Engineering. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann. Nielsen, Jakob. (2000). Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity. Indianapolis: New Riders Publishing. Nielsen, Jakob. & Mack, Robert.L. (1994). Usability Inspection Methods. New York: John Wiley. RISQ (1997). Results of the Fourth RISQ Survey of Quebec Internauts. (Consulted June 2000) Rosenfeld, Louis. & Morville, Peter (1998). Information Architecture for the World Wide Web. Cambridge, etc.: O’Reilly. Rubin, Jeffrey. (1994). Handbook of Usability Testing: How to Plan, Design, and Conduct Effective Tests. New York: John Wiley. Schweibenz, Werner. (1999). Informationspraxis — Proactive Web design. Massnahmen zur Verbesserung der Auffindbarkeit von Webseiten durch Suchmaschinen. NfD: Information, Wissenschaft und Praxis, 50 (7), 389–396. Siegel, David. 1997. Secrets of successful web sites.Project management on the World Wide Web. Indianapolis: Hayden Books. Stout, Rick (1997). Web Site Stats. Tracking Hits and Analyzing Traffic. Berkeley, etc.: Osborne McGraw-Hill. Sharples, Mike (1999). How we write. Writing as creative design. London, New York: Routledge. Wood, Larry E. (1998). User Interface Design: Bridging the Gap from User Requirements to Design. Boca Raton (FL), etc.: CRC Press. Yin, R. K. (1994). Case Study Research. Design and Methods. Thousands Oaks: Sage Publications.



A Animation See: Visual design Appreciation 47, 111, 123, 157 Approval 92–93, 99–100 Assessment See: Evaluation Audience(s) 6–7, 60–63, 107–108, 135–136, 147 B Back office 48, 73 Brand 66 Browser 4, 94, 114 Business re-design See: Re-design, business C Case studies 9, 13–16, 33–35, 58, 132 Chat 6, 36 Code of conduct 52 Communication policy 61, 63, 72, 100, 146 Community 51–52, 84 Compatibility 94 Consistency 42, 82–84, 127–128 Content 50, 61, 140–141, 147–148, 157 – Explosion 104 – List 65 – Providers 42, 84 – Re-use 149 Contractor 86 Cookies 117–119 Copyright 87 Cost-effectiveness See: Effectiveness, cost Customer relations 46–47 D Demo 36, 37 Demographics See: Visitor, statistics

Design grid See: Page, template Download 36 – Requirements See: Requirements, download – Time 86, 87–88 E E-commerce See: Transactions E-mail 6, 119–122 – Overload 71, 73, 120–122 – To organization 47, 52 – To webmaster 47, 52, 119–122 Ease of use See: Usability Editing 98, 148–150 Editorial board 105, 134, 140, 153 Effectiveness 58, 110, 111, 155 – Conditions for 111, 155 – Cost 45–46, 116, 156 Evaluation 46, 58, 109–130 – Criteria 110 – Formative 110 – Method 122, 124, 126 – Plan 111–112, 130, 142 – Summative 110 F FAQ See: Frequently Asked Questions Feedback See: Review Findability 152–153 Focus groups 93, 124–126 Format 5, 14–16, 40, 80 Forms 36–37, 75 Forum See: Community Frequently Asked Questions 121, 134, 147 G Game See: Visual design

164 Index

Graphics See: Visual design Grid See: Design grid H Hits 113–114 HTML 88–90, 94, 144 I Illustration See: Visual design Information See: Content – Architecture 42, 68–70, 125, 133, 140 – Factual 14, 36 – Persuasive 14, 36 Interaction 52, 65, 70–73, 92, 134, 141, 150 – Among visitors 51, 72–73 L Launch 60, 100–103, 152–153 Links – Incoming 102–103 – Missing 91, 94 Look and feel 65–68 M Maintenance 60, 104–108, 153–154 Map 37 Marketing 118–119 Metaphor 65–66, 139 Meta-tags 101, 152 Mock-up See: Prototype N Navigation 43, 68–70, 146–147 O Outline See: Site map P Page 36–37 – Production 60, 70, 80–82 – Template 70, 85, 144 – Views 113 Photo See: Visual design

Presentation mode See: Format Privacy 118–119 Project planning 64, 76–79, 138–139 Prototype 60, 67, 70, 93, 141 Q Quality control 90–93, 131 Questionnaire See: Survey R Re-design – Business 48, 75, 78, 106–107, 137, 143 – Site 50, 64, 104–105, 124–126, 129–130, 154 Requirements 32, 59, 63 – Download 94 – For transaction 74 – Legal 92 – Strategic 60, 76, 115, 133–138 – Style 80, 90 – Technical 93–94 Resources 63–64, 89, 138 Review 90–93, 145, 146–150 S Scenario See: User scenario Search 42, 100–102 Server log data 96, 112–117 Shopping cart See: Transaction Site – map 59, 68–70 – structure See: Information, architecture Skills 8, 81–82, 86, 89–90 Sorting task 126–128 Storyboard 75 Strategy See: Requirements, strategic Style sheet See: Page, template Survey 123–124 T Team 144–145 Technical design 11, 75–76, 88–89, 142 Template See: Page, template

Index 165

Test 93–99 – Editorial 98 – Plan 129–130 – Technical 93–94, 151 – Usability 93, 96, 123, 130, 156 Training See: Skills Transaction 8, 71, 73–75, 141, 150 Typography See: Visual design U Updating 43–44, 48–50, 54 Usability 47, 96–98, 151, 156 User See: Visitor(s), Audience(s) – Scenarios 63, 67, 107

V Vendor See: Contractor Video See: Visual design Visitor(s) – Characteristics 62, 116, 124 – Number of 105, 107, 114–115 – Statistics 4, 116–117 Visual design 6, 36–37, 85–88, 142, 148–150 W Web committee See: Editorial board Writing 66, 80–85, 148–149

Web Site Design is Communication Design  

This book is written for information managers, researchers in discourse studies and organization studies, text analysts, and communication s...

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you