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An open book

Mario Garcia asks online editors to rethink how they see their sites.
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Frustrated readers

Long downloads top online frustrations.
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Saving time

Author gives tips to web designers. More


There's always been the question of, should feedback from readers dictate design? At first, the answer seems obvious, "No." But it's feedback and responding in some way to that reader feedback that could get people to return to a site after leaving it frustrated.
the stories
Garcia inspires group of online editors

Mario Garcia, known for changing the face of newspaper design, inspired a group of participants at a Poynter online workshop by telling the online editors that web sites are more like books. However, Garcia, who highlighted the 1999 seminar in St. Petersburg, said news web sites still are using the "newspaper metaphor" online.

He uses the example of taking out a book and having online staffers say what they see. Garcia sees a comfortable reading environment, a title page and then the content with perfectly spaced photographs highlighted by white space. Then he asks the online staffs to look at their own web sites. If it's like most news sites, there is probably tons of type, little room to rest the eyes and tiny icons everywhere.

"People want to read," he told the Poynter group. "People want to see white space. People want to see graphics. When you look at books, they have what people want to see, but web sites are not built like that."

Listening to the readers

Slow downloading is the no. 1 frustration that consumers say drives them from sites, according to a study by Bernadette Tracey in 1998.

Tracey, president of NetSmart, surveyed 1,000 consumers on why they go to newspaper websites. Seventy-three percent said the site was difficult to navigate, 68 percent said the site was not interactive and 62 percent said the home page was not user-friendly.

"If the home page is loaded with too much information and overly complex flashy graphics, you'll annoy users," Tracey said in a Dec. 26, 1998 Editor & Publisher article. "The major newspapers seem to have learned that lesson, but many of the smaller papers have not."

Usability is the no. 1 thing when considering user feedback. The point of newspaper websites is to be read. But should users' comments shape the design of a news site?

Steven Cannon, of the New York Web design studio Rare Medium, said in a March/April 1999 Print article that user feedback must be understood in context.

"I don't think you should ask a user what they expect and then design something to fit that," Cannon said in the article. "First, one or two people have to get together in a room and create something that they think works. Then you show it to users. And if the users don't get it, you don't throw the idea out the window; you try to make your design work better."

Time-saving design tips

Reid Goldsborough, a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway, says web design is all about respecting people's time.

In an October/November issue of Reading Today, she writes down several tips for effective and successful design. The following is a sample from the list:

* No single graphic should be larger than 25 to 50 kilobytes, and no single page should include more than 200 kilobytes of graphics in total, unless absolutely necessary.

* Give visitors the option of receiving any sizable Java applets or Shockwave movies.

* Don't waste viewer's time with under construction sites.

* Keep in mind the variety of screen resolutions, browsers and modem speeds. Some people stil use text-based browsers so include test-based links in addition to clickable images or image maps.

* Strive for consistency and creativity by starting with templates.

* Remember content is king. What you say is more important than how you say it. The key to website is the info your provide ultimately.

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