The Alert Box for May 1996:
Top Ten Mistakes in Web Design
By Jakob Nielsen, SunSoft Distinguished Engineer
1. Using Frames
Splitting a page into frames is very confusing for users since frames
break the fundamental user model of the web page. All of a sudden, you
cannot bookmark the current page and return to it (the bookmark points
to another version of the frameset), URLs stop working, and printouts
become difficult. Even worse, the predictability of user actions goes
out the door: who knows what information will appear where when you
click on a link?
2. Gratuitous Use of Bleeding-Edge Technology
Don't try to attract users to your site by bragging about use of the
latest web technology. You may attract a few nerds, but mainstream
users will care more about useful content and your ability to offer
good customer service. Using the latest and greatest before it is even
out of beta is a sure way to discourage users: if their system crashes
while visiting your site, you can bet that many of them will not be
back. Unless you are in the business of selling Internet products or
services, it is better to wait until some experience has been gained
with respect to the appropriate ways of using new techniques. When
desktop publishing was young, people put twenty fonts in their
documents: let's avoid similar design bloat on the Web.
example: Use VRML if you actually have information that maps naturally
onto a three-dimensional space (e.g., architectural design,
shoot-them-up games, surgery planning). Don't use VRML if your data is
N-dimensional since it is usually better to produce 2-dimensional
overviews that fit with the actual display and input hardware available
to the user.
3. Scrolling Text, Marquees, and Constantly Running Animations
Never include page elements that move incessantly. Moving images have
an overpowering effect on the human peripheral vision. A web page
should not emulate Times Square in New York City in its constant attack
on the human senses: give your user some peace and quiet to actually
read the text!
Of course, <BLINK> is simply evil. Enough said.
4. Complex URLs
Even though machine-level addressing like the URL should never have
been exposed in the user interface, it is there and we have found that
users actually try to decode the URLs of pages to infer the structure
of web sites. Users do this because of the horrifying lack of support
for navigation and sense of location in current web browsers. Thus, a
URL should contain human-readable directory and file names that reflect
the nature of the information space.
Also, users sometimes need to type in a URL, so try to minimize the
risk of typos by using short names with all lower-case characters and
no special characters (many people don't know how to type a ~).
5. Orphan Pages
Make sure that all pages include a clear indication of what web site
they belong to since users may access pages directly without coming in
through your home page. For the same reason, every page should have a
link up to your home page as well as some indication of where they fit
within the structure of your information space.
6. Long Scrolling Pages
Only 10% of users scroll beyond the information that is visible on the
screen when a page comes up. All critical content and navigation
options should be on the top part of the page. (So why is
this page long: because it is a leaf node that is only read by people
with special interests - but I should have been briefer!)
7. Lack of Navigation Support
Don't assume that users know as much about your site as you do. They
always have difficulty finding information, so they need support in the
form of a strong sense of structure and place. Start your design with a
good understanding of the structure of the information space and
communicate this structure explicitly to the user. Provide a site map
and let users know where they are and where they can go. Also, you will
need a good search feature since even the best navigation support will
never be enough.
8. Non-Standard Link Colors
Links to pages that have not been seen by the user are blue; links to
previously seen pages are purple or red. Don't mess with these colors
since the ability to understand what links have been followed is one of
the few navigational aides that is standard in most web browsers.
Consistency is key to teaching users what the link colors mean.
9. Outdated Information
Budget to hire a web gardener as part of your team. You need somebody
to root out the weeds and replant the flowers as the website changes
but most people would rather spend their time creating new content than
on maintenance. In practice, maintenance is a cheap way of enhancing
the content on your website since many old pages keep their relevance
and should be linked into the new pages. Of course, some pages are
better off being removed completely from the server after their
10. Overly Long Download Times
I am placing this issue last because most people already know about it;
not because it is the least important. Traditional human factors
guidelines indicate 10 seconds as the maximum response time before
users lose interest. On the web, users have been trained to endure so
much suffering that it may be acceptable to increase this limit to 15
seconds for a few pages.
Even websites with high-end users need to consider download times: we
have found that many of our customers access Sun's website from home
computers in the evening because they are too busy to surf the web
during working hours. Bandwidth is getting worse, not better, as the
Internet adds users faster than the infrastructure can keep up.
1996 Sun Microsystems, Inc., 2550 Garcia Ave., Mtn. View, CA 94043-1100 USA.
All rights reserved.