In 2000, Jakob Nielsen authored the book Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity which emphasizes fast and efficient methods for improving the quality of user interfaces. He is currently a principal of the Nielsen/Norman Group and has been writing the AlertBox column since 1995.
Mr. Nielsen has recently taken to the road giving four seminars based on a recently completed an eye-tracking study that investigated how users consume Web pages. According interviews with ZDNet's Dan Farber and with USA Today's Edward C. Baig, "...peoples' eyes flitter fast across pages. Very little time is allocated to each page element, so you have to be brief and concise in communicating online."
According to the study web users don't look across the lines of a page. People look down web pages in an 'F' pattern with the right-hand side of a page often never viewed. ( So, what are your eyes doing over here?) Sometimes the eye tracking results in an 'E' pattern but the study finds it's usually an F.
The Nielsen/Norman Group asked more than 230 participants to research specific tasks and company information online. Tasks included learning to tie a type of knot called a "bowline," shopping for a mortgage and deciding whether to adopt a cairn terrier or pharaoh hound from an animal shelter.
The study also discovered that pictures, images and moving objects tend to be more of an obstacle. Image quality is a major factor in drawing attention with people in pictures that face forward and look directly at the user being more inviting and approachable. Pictures that provide useful information, not just decoration, are more effective and images in the middle of a page are problematic.
Advertisers should be concerned since the study revieled that web users will peek at ads in search engines as a secondary task since they usually have specific product targets in mind. Since users fixate on the first few words of a headline, but often only for a tenth of second,concise headlines need to be used.
By understanding the F principle, Nielsen feels that writing eye-catching and usable sites is possible.
I wonder how many libraries will revisit their sites and make changes based on this study?
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