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Guideline Identify and clearly articulate the primary goals of the Web site before beginning the design process.

Before starting design work, identify the primary goals of the Web site (educate, inform, entertain, sell, etc.). Goals determine the audience, content, function, and the site’s unique look and feel. It is also a good idea to communicate the goals to, and develop consensus for the site goals from, management and those working on the Web site.

The Guidelines offer benefits to three key audiences:

Designers The Guidelines provide a clear sense of the range of issues that designers—especially those who are new to the field—need to consider when planning and designing a Web site. Applying the Guidelines will help to reduce the negative impacts of ’opinion-driven’ design, and referring to evidence-based guidance can reduce the clashes resulting from differences of opinion between design team members.

Usability Specialists The Guidelines will help usability specialists evaluate the designs of Web sites. For example, usability specialists can use the Guidelines as a checklist to aid them during their review of Web sites. They also can create customized checklists that focus on the ’Relative Importance’ and ’Strength of Evidence’ scales associated with each guideline. For example, a usability specialist can create a checklist that only focuses on the top 20 most important issues related to the success of a Web site.

Researchers Researchers involved in evaluating Web design and Web process issues can use this set of Guidelines to determine where new research is needed. Researchers can use the sources of evidence provided for each guideline to assess the research that has been conducted, and to determine the need for additional research to increase the validity of the previous findings, or to challenge these findings. Perhaps more importantly, researchers also can use the Guidelines and their sources to formulate new and important research questions.

Considerations Before Using the Guidelines

The guidelines are intended to improve the design and usability of information-based Web sites, but also can be applied across the wide spectrum of Web sites. When using the guidelines, it is helpful to remember that:

1     the guidelines are ordered according to their ’Relative Importance’ ratings. That is, the most       important guidelines

2   The guidelines may not adequately consider the experience of the designer. For example, a designer may have specialized knowledge about designing for a particular audience or context. These guidelines are adaptable and are not fixed rules.

3   The guidelines may not reflect all evidence from all disciplines related to Web design and usability. Considerable effort has been made to include research from a variety of fields including human factors, cognitive psychology, computer science, usability, and technical communication. However, other disciplines may have valuable research that is not reflected in the guidelines.

4   Some ’Strength of Evidence’ ratings are low because there is a lack of research for that particular issue. The ’Strength of Evidence’ scale used to rate each guideline was designed to put a high value on research-based evidence, but also to acknowledge experience-based evidence including expert opinions. Low ’Strength of Evidence’ ratings should encourage the research of issues that are not currently investigated.

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