This lecture was prepared by Gabriela Lanza '14, a long-time tutor for CS110,
MAS major, and passionate website developer.
This semester, we've learned the nuts and bolts of web design: HTML,
the semester, you had an assignment about human behavior patterns related to design. This falls generally
under the umbrella of usability, or user-centered design, which according to
usability.gov means designing your
website so that users can effectively, efficiently and satisfactorily
achieve their goals. We return to that topic today, which is
particularly important as we prepare for implementing your websites.
Schneiderman's Eight Golden Rules of Usability
Usability isn't an easy thing to master. There's no magical formula that you can follow to make your site user-friendly. There
are, however, some guidelines that will make your site much easier for your users. These rules are based off of user interface
design (such as interactive applications), but can easily be adapted to websites:
Strive for Consistency - Keep your design consistent across pages. Users will be confused if your website
follows one design pattern on one pages and another design pattern on another page. Keep your navigation bar, the way your
links look, your text size, etc. consistent.
Cater to Universal Usability - Your website should be easy for people of all ability levels to use.
Offer Informative feedback - If your website has interactive elements, such as form submission or an AJAX
back-end, make sure to inform the user what your interface is doing. Has the form been submitted? Has the information been
saved successfully? If you were the user, what would you like to know?
Design Dialogs to yield closure - This rule is more important for user interfaces than for more static
sites, but still applies in situations like in Rule #3.
Prevent Errors - This is one of the hardest to master. It involves stepping through the process that
users take to achieve tasks on your website, and thinking about where on your site users might become confused. User testing
can help illuminate some of these problems.
Permit easy reversal of actions - Don't let a user get lost on your website. Make it easy for them to get
back to whatever page they came from.
Support internal locus of control - This rule is similar to Rule #6. Make sure your users always know where
on your website they are located. A map of the sequence of clicks taken to reach their current page
(i.e. "About/Our Story/The Beginning"), or "breadcrumbs", are helpful in achieving this.
Reduce short term memory - Don't make your users remember information from page to page. If your site has
a page that requires users to use information from another page, put all of the information together instead of making your
user jump back and forth between pages.
More Usability Suggestions
Make sure you don't have broken links!
Make the most important information easiest to find
On a similar note, Provide a hierarchy of information - Use headers, lists, and breaks to make information
easier to find and read.
Use White Space - One of the most common web design follies is to try to fit as much information on a
page as possible. In fact, the opposite should be true. More white, or blank, space looks better and makes sites easier to
And last but not least, test for usability - You become so intimately familiar with your site in the process
of making it that you might miss problem areas for users simply because they seem obvious to you. Often you won't know about
usability issues until your test subjects find them for you.
Side note: One of the most important things about usability testing is to inform the test subject that you are testing the
system not them, and that any confusion or issues they have is valuable
information to you. Your usability test won't be effective if the test subject is nervous because they feel they are being
judged on how well they use your site!
What is Responsive Web Design?
Responsive web design is certainly one of those things that falls under the umbrella of usability, but is so important that
it deserves its own section. Making a website "responsive" means designing your website so that it is adaptable and
accessible to users on any device.
Think of the multitude of devices out there today: computers with large-screen monitors, big laptops, small laptops, tablets,
e-readers, phones, and many more. If users from any of these devices cannot get the information or achieve the tasks they need,
your website loses a lot of effectiveness. The below chart shows the growth of mobile phone use in accessing the Web.
And that's just phones.
What does a responsive website look like?
Well, it's much easier to show what a non-responsive website looks like. For example, the CS110 Schedule page
of the old website (before Spring 2014) was not responsive:
At smaller screen widths, the user cannot see the whole schedule at once, which is a problem in and of itself. And because the menu on the side is fixed, it overlaps the menu when you try to scroll sideways to see the rest of
schedule. The spigotdesign.com
site, however, is designed to be responsive. Try visiting the site
and re-sizing your browser. The following image shows what the site
looks like on a computer, on a tablet, and on a mobile phone.
Elements have been adjusted in size, moved, and even taken away entirely to adapt for different screen sizes. There are really no
hard-and-fast rules for making a website responsive. Much of the process of responsive web design involves designing for big screens,
testing for different screen widths, and then adjusting your site accordingly. There are, however, some helpful guidelines for
designing for smaller screens.
Guidelines for Designing For Smaller Screens (Tablets, E-Readers, Phones, etc.)
Resize your content to fit on the screen. - If your content does not fit horizontally, stack it vertically,
since there is often more vertical space than horizontal space on these types of devices.
Remove non-essential content - There is some content that users simply may not need when they are browsing
on-the-go. Do not be afraid to remove it if it is taking up valuable screen space.
Increase font size for legibility - It's already difficult to read on mobile devices. Increase the font
size to make your site easier to read.
Make your links and buttons recognizable and clickable - On touchscreen devices, users are using their fingers
to click on links instead of a mouse or trackpad, which can be much less accurate. Increase the size of your buttons and links
to account for this.
Whitespace is still important - Resist the urge to fill the screen space since there is so little of it. As with
before, this blank space is still important for the overall readability of your site. Increase your margins and padding, if need be.
How do you adapt for responsiveness?
In order to adapt your website to different screen widths, you first must determine your screen's width, then apply certain rules to
your screen under those circumstances. This is done with a media query. A media query is like an if statement in
Read the CSS code below and try to guess what will happen to the div elements of class colorblock,
if you resize the page.
The media queries comes after the original CSS definition. This is so that the later rules can overwrite the previous ones.
Only the rule in question (in this case, the background color) is changed. All the other original rules still apply.
In the example above, 700px and 500px become special numbers. In the web design world, these are called breakpoints,
since they are screen widths where things on the page change. In general, it is good to have as few breakpoints as possible - it
can be confusing if things are constantly changing when you resize your screen, and difficult to maintain. Thereis a lot of debate
in the web design world about the best breakpoints for your media queries, but, generally, safe bets are 768px and 480px, the screen
widths of an iPad and an iPhone.
Other Responsive Fixes
On another note, you'll notice that the div itself is responsive and resizes along with the screen. This is because we gave it a
100% width and a max-width of the largest pixel size we want our element to be. This is a great trick for making images responsive. Percentage widths are one of your biggest tools in making a site
responsive; instead of fixed-pixel widths, use percentages of the screen size. Other tricks include:
Remove things using display: none
Set inner elements to be percentage widths of outer elements (for example, four blocks in a row on the page to each have
25% width, adding up to 100% width in total)
Load lower image resolutions as narrower screen widths
Arrange things vertically instead of horizontally, by switching from display: inline or
display: inline-block to display: block
display: inline-block is a useful CSS rule we didn't talk about in class. It allows elements to act as block elements
in terms of size and containing other elements, but is treated like an inline element for display purposes, allowing it to
line up side-by-side with other inline elements.
Besides that, just try things! You'll never know what works until you spend some time finding out what doesn't first.
Google Chrome Developer Tools allow you to emulate the screens of many devices so that you can check
how your website will look like in such devices. To get to this emulation mode, once you open Inspect Element, toggle the Emulation button (on the left side of Inspect Element tab name). Then you can use the drop-down
menu to choose any device you'd like to test.
You're probably thinking by now, Wow, this sounds like a lot of code! But don't be afraid! There are tons of frameworks on the
Web that make creating responsive websites easy. Most of these are built on something called a fluid grid, which, in most
cases, takes care of the responsiveness for you. One of my favorites, and an industry standard, is
Bootstrap, a framework built by two software developers at Twitter. If you plan on continuing in web design after this class,
or if you're just interested, check it out.
CS220 (Human-Computer Interaction), discusses many of the things talked about
in this lecture more in-depth, and lets you design for iPhones and conduct usability studies, among other things. Check it out!