What do users prefer?

Way back in the early days of the web (well around 1998), Sun Microsystems did some research into the most important factors for users that websites should take into account. They had three main findings:-

  • “People have very little patience for poorly designed WWW sites. As one user put it: “the more well-organised a page is, the more faith I will have in the info.” Many other users told us that they would be out of a server, never to return, if they got too many server errors or “under construction” signs. A user also said, “either the information is there or it is not; don’t waste my time with stuff you are not going to give me”.
  • “Users don’t want to scroll. Information that is not on the top screen when a page comes up is only read by very interested users. In our tests, users stated that a design that made everything fit on a single page was an indication that the designers had taken care to do a good job. Whereas other pages that contained several screen’s worth of lists or unstructured material were an indication of sloppy work that made them question the quality of the information contained on those sites. Note: Our usability studies in 1997 have revised this conclusion somewhat. Scrolling is still bad, but not as bad as it used to be”.
  • “Users don’t want to read. Reading speeds are more than 25% slower from computer screens than from paper, but that does not mean that you should write 25% less than you would in a paper document. You should write 50% less! Users recklessly skip over any text that they deem to be fluff (e.g., welcome messages or introductory paragraphs) and scan for highlighted terms (e.g., hypertext links).”

However, it might be tempting to assume that things have changed significantly since then simply because there are more users who are more technically knowledgeable. Well, I am going to tell you that I think it would be wrong to make this assumption. Why, because I pay attention to my own habits when I am using the web and what they show me is that all the recommendations are even more relevant now that there is so much more available content for users to view.

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