NN/g News

Challenges Designing for the Web vs. Other Media (World Tour 2000)

November 14, 2000

by Kara Pernice

Photo of audience in New York
The main event gets underway

NEW YORK CITY, November 14, 2000. Nielsen Norman Group kicked off its 2000/20001 World Tour in New York City this week. Almost 500 people attended the main event on Tuesday, where they asked provocative questions of the four speakers. We turned the tables on some of them, asking them about the usability challenges they face. We heard stories about topics ranging from power and influence of usability professionals, to their views about the usability issues with the 2000 Presidential Election. One challenge that was prevalent in these conversations was, no surprise, how to design effective, usable Web sites. These people are changing their design processes and philosophies to adapt to and succeed on the Web.

Photo of Seth Orkland, Trilogy

Seth Orkland,

Attendees who come from a software application background, publishing, or graphic design background discussed their need to evolve their design methods for the Web. Seth Orkand, HCI Consulting Manager at Trilogy, said, "The industry has to figure out how to design applications using the Web as a medium. The Web is like a book, or page-to-page. Traditional applications are not. How do you engineer applications to translate to a page-to-page paradigm ?" He added, "Graphic-centric design and print design are converging. And now there's techno-geek design. How to balance the two is a challenge."

Graphic designers bring a different perspective. Specifically, one designer from a large software company sees an advantage to developing for the Web over of print. "There is no mechanism of feedback in print like there is on the Web . In print, you didn't know how they [users] actually look at a piece. With the Web, you can track when people come and where." Another designer added that while Web jobs are typically very fast-paced, she feels there is actually less pressure designing for them than there is when designing for print. "You always found a mistake in a big expensive [print] run and there was nothing you could do. Now I just fix it."

But other graphic designers and publishers express some loss of control in the way their designs are displayed and used on the Web. "In print, everything is there. You're the host. You control it. The Web is layers upon layers," said one graphic designer from a large business software company. One of his co-workers added, "You can't control the users' thoughts. To predict it is a challenge. With print you can control a lot of aspects."

Until there's a Web application that can control the users' thoughts, we'll need to keep trying to know our users, how they think, and what is important to them. One woman who works in the Web Services and Standards group at a large mutual fund company discusses one point they learned from their usability studies. " Terminology in the financial world is different. For example, what we think of as an account and what the user thinks of as an account are different. The user thinks of it as one account, like a bank account. The company sees it more like many accounts -- each mutual fund is a different account. Each fund is an account, but a person wouldn't really think of it this way. And, this is sensitive data to people -- their financial records. It has to be usable, but secure." She also says that designing this site is difficult because of their user type. "We have a wide range of users, from novice to people who are programmers. We need to design and allow for a wide variety of people with different needs and experience."

Christopher K. Bailey, Usability Project Lead at Studio Interactive, has a similar challenge. "We are always concerned with the lowest common denominator," he said. "We have to consider the people with the least experience, the lowest resolution monitors, and computers with poor performance."

Even when considering the challenges discussed, it was obvious and encouraging to see that many attendees are finding creative ways to deal with their issues. Many are well on their way to, or are already a part of successful usability programs.

While several attendees in New York were from countries outside the United States, most were from the U.S. Everyone interviewed for the above article work in Northeastern United States. Thank you to all the attendees who were interviewed, those quoted here and not quoted here.

Meeting the speakers
Meeting the speakers in New York

Press coverage of the New York conference: