Category Archives: Usability

External Links and Beware of the ‘Link Trolls’

As a web manager, you have a lot of responsibility. You have to keep your content “fresh” and accurate. It is a lot of work when you have 50+ webpages to manage along with various other job responsibilities. Making CMS updates typically falls under “and other duties assigned”—making things particularly difficult.

The ‘What’ and ‘Why’ of External Linking

We link to a lot of external websites—ones that Michigan Tech does not own or control. We link to resources about the local community and lodging, responsible research practices, and the products that our university uses. We link to information about disabilities. To our corporate partners’ websites. To sponsors, writing tips, and career advice.

Continue reading


Flexibility/Usability Tradeoff

As the flexibility of a system increases, its usability decreases. It sounds simple, but yet is so difficult to understand. Intel has a couple nice examples of this. Flexibility has costs. I would argue this holds true in general, but for now let’s focus on the web.

Making it ‘Foolproof’

Murphy’s Law claims, in part, that “nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool.” In basic terms, you cannot plan for everything. Rather, you should design and code for the critical mass of users needed to make your website successful. When you go overboard on flexibility, you decrease efficiency, added complexity, increase time, and spend more money for development. You may deliver a user experience that is worst than what you started with.

Continue reading


Why We Are Going Responsive

When universities or corporations redesign their website, the trend is to ‘go responsive.’ There are a few important reasons, beyond being trendy:

  • Mobile usage is exploding: More than 33% of our web traffic is on a mobile device and that percentage increases every few months. Our Athletics website has already seen “the flip” where more of their traffic is via mobile than any other platform.
  • Consistent user experience: if your customer is used to your desktop website, they should have a similar experience on a tablet or mobile phone. This is ensured by serving them a responsive website that adapts to their screen size. We believe in serving the same content, regardless of the screen size. Smartphones are fully capable of displaying all of the content that a desktop machine can.
  • It is recommended by Google: Google will boost your search engine rankings if a user is searching on a mobile device and your website is ‘mobile friendly.’ Although Google also values a separate version of your website as being ‘mobile friendly’, they recommend that your website be responsive.
  • Cost effectiveness: in the long run, it is easier to make your website responsive than it is to maintain two or more separate versions of your website. With multiple website copies, it is easy to be lazy and develop for ‘desktop only’ and then have to redevelop for the other screen sizes. A responsive website puts the focus on all screen sizes and one code base.

Continue reading



Image Carousels are Dead

Why do people always ask for image carousels, especially on their homepage? Ok, I understand that sometimes it is politics. “I can’t feature just one topic on my department’s homepage. Can we add seven images, so no one is mad?” Sometimes it is because novices thinks that it “looks cool.” Sometimes people see it on one website and think they should copy the effect. None of these are good reasons for an image carousel, though. Continue reading


The Hierarchy of (Web) Needs

Being a web professional at a university can be difficult. Department chairs say things like “I want a website that looks different from everyone else.” A liaison says “I want the newest, craziest, most different website that you can make.” Everyone wants ‘cutting edge,’ although they don’t know what that means or why they are asking for it.

Those who don’t work in the web profession get lost in flashy designs, zany animations, and sparkles. They rarely analyze how many clicks it takes to get to the real information, how accessible a website is to those with disabilities, or how user-friendly a website is on an iPhone. They just want to be ‘wowed.’ Does their audience really want to be wowed, though?

Continue reading


Search Engine Optimization and Usability

Over the past month, 60% of our web traffic has come via some search engine. That number has hovered around 60% for months now. What does that mean? In a world where users automatically go to Google to find a website, it is increasing important that we optimize our websites for search engines (commonly referred to as SEO).

A number of the same principles for optimizing our websites (using headings, linking keywords, providing rich content) also create a website that is very user friendly. A good website follows usability best practices and SEO best practices.

To help our campus web liaisons, we have produced a guide about SEO and usability best practices.