IBM Ease of Use – Web design guidelines

IBM’s user interface resources are extensive and freely available. Here is an example of the quality of the content, which covers everything from UI, disabled usability, to competitive factors.

Define your target audience

As much as you may wish it could, your site will not appeal to
everyone. Your best bet is to choose a particular segment of
the population and focus your efforts on attracting and engaging
these users. Explore the following issues to develop your list of
potential users:

  1. Determine who is likely to be interested in the content
    you will provide. For example, if you want to sell exotic
    fruits through your site, you may list restaurant chefs,
    immigrants from the fruits’ native regions, managers of
    upscale produce departments, adventurous home cooks, and
    vegetarians as potential customers. At this initial
    brainstorming stage, don’t try to narrow this list; you
    want to look at the full range of possible users.
  2. Determine which of these user groups you are equipped to
    serve. In the example above, if you have a small farm
    with limited production capacity, you may choose to
    exclude buyers for large produce departments or large restaurants.
  3. Of the remaining list, determine which users in your list have
    access to the web. Also, which are most likely to
    use the web for your intended purpose?
Gain input from potential users on the content of your site

Input from users on your content will help you create a site that is relevant and engaging. Ask users for feedback on the quality of your ideas, and ask them to contribute ideas. The Web provides a unique opportunity to quickly gather specific information from users from distant locations. Here are some methods and suggestions for eliciting input from potential users:

Survey Questionnaire

  • Post an email survey questionnaire to online discussion groups
  • Post a survey on the Web and invite readers of discussion groups to respond (A well-done Web survey is more professional in appearance and is easier to use than an email survey.)
  • Ask participants what activities they would like to perform or what information they would like to find at your site
  • Present a list of information items or potential tasks; ask participants to rate each from 1 to 5 according to how interesting or important each one is
  • Ask participants how they initially find websites such as yours or the one you plan to create (this information will help you plan how and where to advertise your site)
  • Offer people incentives, such as a drawing for a prize, to complete the survey


  • Present a site outline or early proposal to prospective users
    and solicit comments on coverage and suggestions for additional
  • Ask participants to describe in detail the situation in
    which they might use the proposed website
  • Ask participants what they like and dislike about the websites
    of potential competitors and record their responses
  • Ask participants how they would expect to be able to
    accomplish particular tasks

Task Analysis:

  • Ask participants to use a competitor’s site, or ask them to
    perform the tasks that your website will facilitate using
    whatever means they currently use
  • Ask users to voice what they are thinking as they
    accomplish the tasks
  • Observe users accomplishing the tasks and note the order
    and techniques they use
  • Discover which tasks are done most frequently and which
    are most essential
  • Borrow from users’ current expectations
    for how to perform the tasks, but remember that you want to
    improve upon the tools and methods they currently use

Focus Group:

  • Schedule a facilitator with previous experience
    coordinating focus groups
  • Obtain a facility with several computers and a projection
  • Recruit representative users, perhaps from a user group
    or email discussion group
  • Ask participants to provide anonymous feedback via a
    computer station, website or email
  • Display a list of topics and/or sample pages
  • Ask participants to rate their interest in the proposed
    contents of the site

When you elicit input on the content of your site, you may
find that a group in your target audience is not interested in
your primary purpose. For instance, you may find that adventurous
home cooks are not interested in purchasing fruit online, that
they would rather buy fruit at an actual store. You may need to
redefine your goal and your target audience based on the results
of user feedback.

Define your audience/user profile

A clear user/audience profile will help you develop a design
strategy that communicates effectively to the people you want
your site to reach. Using the input from potential users, follow
these steps in order to complete your profile:

  • Determine whether your audience is inside the company,
    in which case you would probably use an intranet,
    or outside the company, in which case you would use the
  • Identify the category your target group is in
    (such as people in the food industry)
  • Identify the level of subject expertise within
    that group (such as food professionals, home
    connoisseurs, etc.)
  • Determine the order of their information preferences,
    or which pieces of information users want first, second,
    third, and so on (for example, they may want to first see
    what fruits are in season, followed by the cost of these
  • Define audience characteristics such as profession,
    location, gender, age, or lifestyle preferences when they
    are relevant
  • Describe scenarios of use, or those situations or
    circumstances under which the site may be used (such as a
    health-food restaurant chef trying to use unusual food
    items to make the menu more exotic and interesting)
  • Describe your users’ range of abilities, and account for vision, hearing, mobility, or cognitive impairments
  • Describe your users’ environments, and note any environmental challenges such as poor lighting or noise, and any technical challenges such as screen size and number of colors
  • Identify users’ level of technical expertise in using a
    website (their expertise will affect decisions regarding
    the technical sophistication of the design)
  • Determine what hardware and browser software your audience uses
  • Identify what monitors and screen resolutions your audience


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