Reader as User: Applying Interface Design Techniques to the Web

Human-Computer Interaction

The field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) focuses on the needs, tasks, and goals of computer users in order to create computer systems which are pleasurable to use. In the same way that to write effectively requires a reader-centered approach, to design a usable computer system requires a user-centered approach. According to HCI practitioners, many computer systems are poorly designed, inappropriate, or downright unusable because their designers focused on the affordances, limitations, and quirks of the technology, to the detriment of system users. ( Booth 1989 ) An important aspect to developing a successful computer interface is early and continual focus on the needs of the intended user. ( Gould 1985 )

One danger for web authors and designers to avoid is the belief that interface design is less important on the WWW because of the simplicity of the point-and-click interface. The web is easy to learn and it is easy to use--but that doesn't mean that web authors can forget about how the user will interact with the text. To present information effectively on the web, authors need to be as attentive to the needs of the audience as users of a computer system as they are of the needs of the audience as readers of a text.

Writers should be familiar with conducting a thorough reader analysis in order to identify relevant information about potential readers. A user analysis is like a reader analysis, except it focuses on how the interface will support the user in identifying, obtaining, and processing needed information. To ensure that readers who are also users of a computer system can complete their tasks and meet their goals, web publishers should conduct a user analysis along with a reader analysis.

Writers are undoubtedly familiar with the process of rewriting based on reader response criticism. HCI practitioners also practice iterative design based on input from potential users based on usability tests . Both writers and designers can be too close to a document and fail to identify potential problems or shortcomings without outside feedback. Writers who would never publish a document without revising it several times based on outside input should obtain feedback from potential users and be willing to change the interface for a WWW document based on user comments.

Work done in the field of Cognitive Science may be useful to writers in determining how to support users in translating psychological needs and goals into physical action sequences. Research and practice in the field of Interface Design can help writers who have little experience selecting colors, backgrounds, and images to draw the user's attention to important information, assist the user in making navigational decisions, and make the information aesthetically pleasing.

The first principle of human interface design, whether for a doorknob or a computer, is to keep in mind the human being who wants to use it. The technology is subservient to that goal. This is more than a heuristic; think of it as a world view. The mental skill of putting yourself into a person's position in a specified environment and trying to model the way a tool is used from the potential user's point of view is a very general skill. You can practice it when bathing, when opening your mail, when dialing the telephone. (Norman 1990)

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