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New Research-Based Web Design and Usability Guidelines

HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson recently announced the availability of a new research-based guide to Web site design and usability. HHS issued the Research-Based Web Design & Usability Guidelines, a resource that will help government, academic, commercial and other groups involved in the creation of Web sites make decisions based on user research, not personal opinions.

HHS is currently in the process of creating a usable HTML version of the Guidelines to be available in the Spring 2004.

More Tech Companies See the Value - and Profitability - of Usability

When it comes to making a profit, America's technology companies know that the foundation for profitability is built upon the quality and usability of the core product or service. In the case of most tech companies, it’s about developing software that is easy to learn and easy to use. If usability is a religion, then more tech companies are finding salvation in making a greater investment in usability throughout the product cycle, says Business Week magazine in a recent article.

According to the Business Week article, tech titans like Dell, Oracle and Microsoft are emphasizing usability in product development. A well-recognized case-in-point is Microsoft’s new Windows XP operating system, which was heavily tested for usability before rollout and has drawn raves from users and usability professionals.

Despite the shift toward ensuringproduct usability in the technology community, many corporate Web sites continue to commit basic usability errors, says the Business Week article. In one instance, a company continues to use capital letters on its site, which slows reading time. Another company uses an awkward color combination on its Web site, distracting the eyes. Despite the fact that many companies are getting “religion” on usability, there is still a lot of evangelizing to be done.

Read the Business Week article in its entirety at

New W3C Guidelines Will Help Disabled Persons Enjoy More of the Web

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recently released a new set of accessibility guidelines that open the door for disabled persons who use the Web to experience special browser features and multimedia. After extensive discussions with software developers and members of the disability community, the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 were released in mid-December as a W3C Recommendation. Through the guidelines, software developers can obtain the information they need to make accessibility oriented design choices with browsers and multimedia.

The new guidelines address requirements involving user interface accessibility, delivery of accessibility information and user choice in configuring browsers and multimedia components. The new guidelines are part of W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative, the third set of complementary guidelines on accessibility from W3C. The other two sets of guidelines address Web content accessibility and authoring tool accessibility. UAG 1.0 also addresses several types of multimedia products: HTML and XHTML browsers, multimedia players, graphics viewers and assistive technologies.

"The Web has created unprecedented opportunities for people around the world to learn, shop, play, and communicate with others; and even more for people with disabilities, who have frequently been excluded from many of these activities," the W3C said in a press release. "Access to the Web for people with disabilities, however, presumes that Web developers choose accessible design over inaccessible design; these guidelines explain how to make accessible design choices when developing browsers and media players."

W3C is a leading authority on Web accessibility. The organization studies accessibility issues that impact users with visual, auditory, physical, cognitive and neurological disabilities.

W3C is an international industry consortium run jointly by the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science, the National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control (France) and Japan’s Keio University. W3C was created to promote common protocols that ensure the World Wide Web’s evolution and interoperability.

You can access the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 at

Health Consumers Like Technology, But Are Still Wary of It

Advanced technology may hold a lot of promise in improving health care, but consumers remain skeptical of technology, says a survey of 1002 adults conducted by Harris Interactive Group Corporation. The survey sought consumer attitudes on a range of technologies involved in health care, from online access to medical records to remote technologies that monitor patients’ vital signs.

Among the survey’s mixed findings:

  • 59% said information technology will give them a sense of control and empowerment in managing their health
  • 63% believe information technology will save them from making unnecessary doctor visits
  • 52% believe they will benefit from any cost savings resulting from information technologies
  • 53% believe new information technology will end up being more trouble than doing things the old way
  • 77% think doctors will miss subtle clues in online interactions they would normally pick up in a face-to-face visit
  • 60% believe technology will replace in-person care, putting more distance between doctors and patients
  • 61% believe new technologies will raise the cost of health care and 89% belive patients will end up assuming the higher cost

More information on this survey is available at

How to Institutionalize Usability in Your Organization

One of the most frustrating experiences for usability professionals is trying to convince leaders of an entire organization that usability should be done all the time as a regular, routine part of doing business. Quite often, organizations will "get their feet wet" by selecting a small minority of products and projects for usability engineering. But as usability professionals know, doing usability selectively prevents an organization from realizing maximum benefits. For some, the toughest part of the frustration is not knowing how to get across the message that usability full-time – enmeshed as a part of the corporate culture -- is the ideal approach in terms of value and results.

Human Factors International Founder and CEO Eric Schaffer, PhD, has given a lot of thought to this subject. Some of his recommendations:

  • Apply usability engineering throughout your organization. Don’t just apply it to a select set of projects. Usability engineering must be a way of doing business;
  • Develop a corporate strategy for institutionalizing usability engineering that includes such factors as standards development, onsite courses and showcase projects;
  • Find an "executive champion" in the organization, someone who has the influence and resources to make a difference in this area

Strategies for institutionalizing usability in an organization are available as a white paper off the Web and as a Webcast from a recent presentation Dr. Schaffer gave on the topic.

A free copy of the white paper, "The Institutionalization of Usability," can be ordered at You can access Schaffer’s "Institutionalization of Usability" Webcast at

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