User experience, web, technology

How HTML and CSS is like an egg hatching.

A discussion has been building in a web developer community email list I receive. The discussion looks at the field of “professional web developer/designer/etc.”

One of the posters wrote up a long response to many comments; one of the things he said struck me as true, but a shallow observation.

It was this:

Stuff like HTML, CSS, Javascript are /relatively/ simple compared to the knowledge that most professionals require

User experience, web, technology

Props to Capital Area District Library on their web site

Was just looking up something on the CADL site for my wife, and, as is my habit, I took a quick peek at the HTML code (View -> View Source in Safari). I was pleased to see first that it appears to be valid XHTML 1.0, and quickly noted some nice uses of accesskey attributes in the a elements. Very humane coding. Nice.

Specifically, I noted this pattern repeated for nav links:

<a href="/databases/"
title="Research Tools and Databases. AccessKey: d"
Research Tools

The title attribute will inform users of which accesskey is set for which link.

To see how this works, hold your mouse over the following link.
Capital Area District Library
Then, if you are on a Mac, hold down the CTRL key and that key on your keyboard. If you are using Safari, that should just load up that URL for you.

If you are on a Windows machine, you might need to press ALT or some other key. I’m not sure. Try something. May the force be with you.

The reason we care is that we are always open to ways of making our web sites more accessible for people with disabilities, and the accesskey can be quite helpful for people who may not be in a position to use a mouse. I imagine that some assistive technologies make use of the attribute as well.

If anyone out there knows more of the nitty-gritty detail of how the accesskey attribute is practically applied, I’m interested.

User experience, web, technology

Study suggests shift in methodology for web development is needed

A recent study mentioned by CyberAtlas (formerly NUA Internet Surveys), Errors Rampant on Gov’t sites, found that 68% of U.S. government web sites had web application failures. Of those with failures, 61% had technical errors and 7% had incorrect data errors. The report suggests that a large portion of other errors were user failure errors, indicating a lack of perspective on the user-experience during site development.

The report ends with a quote from Diane Smith, an analyst with the Business Internet Group of San Francisco who collaborated on the study, “Government agencies can only achieve a comprehensive view of their Web site health by incorporating the perspective of the end user into the testing and monitoring process.”

Preach on.

Incidentally, the IRS web site apparently does quite well, passing the review with flying colors.

To me, the report verified a phenomenon that I have seen before. That is, web development teams are staffed by server and database admins, coders, programmers, project managers, designers, and writers, but quite commonly the user is left out of the picture. You get all these people with all these highly specialized skills and together they manage to forget about how the audience they are building the site for will actually handle the site.

Or, perhaps they don’t forget about it, but they think they can imagine how a user would interact. But then they don’t take the extra step of actually finding out in user testing and other user-centered design practices.

It is really one of the cheapest parts of web development, yet it is just so easy to forget about or brush aside.