Thursday, September 25, 2008

Opening up New Windows

According to Nielsen, the only thing the average user can be counted on knowing is that the back arrow cycles back a page. That's it. Therefore, when linking to another site don't open up a new window.

In general I agree with this rule of thumb. However, I disagree completely when it comes to external links via a blog. First and foremost blog readers are already a self-selected user group. It's true that there are always new users to blogs, who are unaware of the rules of blogging etiquette, but I think that few habitual blog readers are newbie computer/internet users. Now the above phrase is a HORRIBLE one for a IA person to throw out without some corroborating data. I must say I haven't any data so, if anyone can point me to it, I would be very happy.

My hypothesis, still to be backed up by empirical data, is that the user experience is superiour when links to external site opened in a new window. The reasoning is that it allows the user to experience, and to explore the new site without losing contact of the original source material. If the external source is not interesting it is simple to close out the window. If the new site is interesting one can easily click through 10, 20 or more times and would now have a more difficult task returning to the original page than simply closing out the new window.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

IE6 and IE6 Blocker

To what extent should we – as designers and site owners – stop supporting IE6? Pursuing through CSS-Tricks I came across the following software IE 6 Blocker which tells users that particular site doesn’t support IE6 and they must upgrade to a new browser. Now, I understand the frustration, but this is ridiculous . (See a previous post regarding the problems with IE 6.)

The first priority of all site owners and IAs is to make the content available to as many people as possible. If people want to use Lynx – well, let them. It is a basic violation of web conventions to tell the user what browser to use; as bad as accessibility and usability violations. I remember when IE first came out and Microsoft was thought of as a monopolistic entity about to consume the world and many sites put up "Netscape Only" splash screens. It was a bad policy then and is bad policy today.

Additionally IE 6 still constitutes about 20% of the market. What sense does it make to eliminate 20% of your users from accessing your site. IE6 will be a force until corporate and government agencies upgrade to a new platform. Only when large sites which cater to corporate clients, like CNN, stop validating for IE6 can I see smaller sites joining on.

The only way I can see dropping support for IE6 making any sense is if your web app requires scripts not available in old browsers. However this is a business decision that should not be made lightly.

A better idea, should you want to drop IE6 support, is to develop to web standards; then check IE6 for any major breakdowns that prevent people from using your site. After the major issues have been cleared do not allocate any extra development time for minor items. At this point it would make sense to flag IE6 users, put a small banner at the top of the page saying that your site is no longer fully supporting IE 6 and ask people to “Upgrade to IE7 as this site may not function perfectly with older versions of IE.”

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Usability Testing: Does a Warm or Cold Drink Change the Results?

There is an interesting program on BBC Horizon which explores how seemingly irrelevant externalities affect our decision making process. You can see the video here: How to Make Better Decisions

One of the experiments shown on the program indicated that you will feel more positive about a newly met person if you're holding a warm beverage. Conversely if you're holding a cold beverage you will feel more negative about that person. (Does it also imply a website?) This resonated with me as I just went through a hiring process and have been very dissatisfied with the person selected. If we had been drinking Red Bull instead of coffee would we have come to a different decision?