OK Sushi

A letter to my mum

Posted on Tuesday July 22, 2008 in Work

I just sent this email to my mum, so she can send it on to some website owners – I thought I should post it here for reference as well. It concerns a couple of ‘rules-of-thumb’ that consistently piss me off.

Here are some resources concerning usability, accessibility and all-round best practice on the web for sites displaying a lot of information.

Firstly, in my experience there are a number of so-called ‘rules-of-thumb’ that are used to justify a lot of incorrect design decisions on the web. The first of these is the notion of the ‘fold’, a term that describes the content obscured by the fold in a newspaper. This is not applicable on the web – having to scroll (vertically) is not a problem for web users – they all understand how to do this. However scrolling should be done by the browser – a website should not replicate functionality that is already provided by the browser (another example would be ‘back’ buttons – users know and trust their browser to do this job for them).


The other false rule-of-thumb is that a user should be able to get to X in Y number of clicks. A lot of navigation has been massively overcomplicated to achieve this goal. More emphasis should be placed on the innate ‘findability’ of information on the site. Instead of thinking that the findability of a page is based on how many mouse clicks it takes a user (assuming that the user already knows the language, navigation structure etc of the website), a website owner should judge how ‘easy’ it was to find the page. A well thought out navigational structure, with appropriate in-content hyperlinks is always a better option than an overcrowded drop down menu.


Before any design occurs, I would recommend knowing exactly the structure of the information. Because information on the web is generally provided for the general public, it is always a good idea to structure the information that you provide in a manner that is useful for the general public. A lot of the time, I have found that this structure maybe contrary to what the website stakeholders think of is ‘normal’. An example of this would be a government website structuring information according to government department, when in fact it would make more sense to structure the information around the type of thing (e.g. Health, Education. Driving etc).

An easy way to find out how information should be organised is to perform some card sorting tests. These are simple little experiments that can be performed with varying levels of complexity, but the premise is this:

Repeat with X number of participants.

Once this is done, collate the information in a spreadsheet, and compare with the anticipated results. Easy!

There are some excellent resources on this technique:

Card Sorting: A Definitive Guide
Eurostar: A Case Study

A quick Google will give many results.

Only after this rudimentary experiment is completed should structure of the ‘information architecture’ occur.

  1. A great post, and i agree 100%.

    Posted by Rockyrock on Jul 30, 11:49 PM
  2. I don’t know how I ended up here.. ad I’m late, but wanted point out a thingie. The “fold” still kind of has a meaning. No, it doesn’t really exist in the Web, but “it” can be used to let the user know that there is something important down in the page. Something (s)he doesn’t necessarily see right away, because the browser window and resolution don’t maybe allow it.

    This is handy on some company/enterprise sites where the header section is basically a big advertisement with functionality limited mostly to navigation and calls-to-action in general. Then you can have a small hook/trick to show him he should maybe scroll down.

    I hope I explained myself here. The term “fold” is just used because it’s an old print design term, and many web designers share the tradition and education.


    Posted by Osku on Oct 23, 06:25 PM
  3. Oh dear.. please take that mailto link away from there. That’s not the way to do it. One writes the email there just because it’s so often required to post a comment, and supposes that it won’t be posted to all the public, and instead will now get even more spam.

    Now it’s here twice! Just because I wanted point out the flaw.

    Posted by Osku on Oct 23, 06:28 PM
  4. None of this needs to be taken as minimizing the plight of recent college
    graduates who face a critical debt burden within an economy offering few jobs and in many cases fewer good paying jobs super real however, the
    charge card company demands a certain deposit which is equivalent
    to the credit limit of card.

    Posted by super real on Nov 5, 12:47 AM

Comment on this article

Textile help

My flickr photos