Research-Based Web Design and Usability Guidelines

Various authors, U.S. Department of Health, Human Services, Nov 21, 2003
Commentary by Stephen Downes

When a document identifies 187 "key rules" I become suspicious. This suspicion is not allayed when an author, contrary to fact, asserts that "none of [the previous studies] agreed, and ... none of them referenced research," he said. But when I find that a major document on web usability is released in PDF, I become righteous with indignation. The PDF document provided didn't work with my reader, but I can refer to a report from eSchool News that summarized 27 key principles. Some of them are pretty trite. For example, "Provide useful content." Well, I'm glad that was research based! But where was the research for this: "Use black text on plain, high-contrast backgrounds?" Well, yes, it's better than white text on black. But the previous research (which the author, remember, says doesn't exist) gives you many options, including blue on white and black on grey. And one wonders whether they studied the long-term effects of bright background on readers (yes, there is one, which is why I prefer to use less bright pastels or greys as backgrounds). Oh, no doubt, some of the guidelines are useful. But as always, take them with a grain of salt.
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