Reader as User: Applying Interface Design Techniques to the Web

Images and Icons

Writers and designers of hypertext documents published to the WWW should be encouraged to experiment with images and icons which are to be used as the means of navigation, which deliver visual as well as textual information, and which enhance the aesthetic appeal of the site. Even though computer monitors provide only 72 dots per inch of resolution, including clear, full-color images in electronic documents is easier and less expensive than in print media.

Writers and designers for the WWW should be cautioned against including large decorative images which carry little or no important information. Because graphics are the first thing the reader looks at on the page, writers need to treat images as equal partners with text. ( White 1988 ) Images with no real information value only distract the user.

Every user of the WWW has suffered through images with excessive download times. Care should be taken to make sizes as small as possible, usually by minimizing the number of colors in the image. Do not assume that large images should never be used--in certain circumstances and for certain users large images are effective and appropriate.

Special care should be taken when using icons and imagemaps for navigation. With colored links in text, the user can see at a glance which links are available and can (usually) determine what information will be presented on the next node. It is more difficult to determine which images serve as links and what the result of clicking a hot image will be. Images and icons are a powerful communication tool and can be effective means of navigation--if the user understands their function in the hypertext network and receives meaningful feedback about their use.

Images can be an effective way of presenting a large volume of information to the user in a form that can be quickly understood and assimilated. Making choices about color and decisions about layout can also aid the presentation of information.

Online documentation is an inherently visual medium. The computer monitor looks a lot more like television or a videogame than a book. For online documents, you must adopt a graphocentric, not logocentric, approach. Use visuals for primary communication and not just for summarizing or supporting text. (Horton 1991)

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