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Nov 2003 Contents

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New research based guidelines anounced

HHS Announces Availability of New Guidelines to Improve Web-Based Communication

Last month HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson announced the availability of a new research-based guide to Web site design and usability. In partnership with the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of HHS' National Institutes of Health, HHS today issued Research-Based Web Design & Usability Guidelines, a resource that will help government, academic, commercial and other groups involved in the creation of Web sites make decisions based on user research, not personal opinions.

"Given the ever-growing level of Internet use by the public, there is a critical need for authoritative guidance in designing federal Web sites and in making them useful for the public," Secretary Thompson said. "These guidelines are a wonderful resource for improving our communication efforts to better meet the needs and expectations of all citizens who turn to HHS for help."

According to recent statistics, there are more than 35 million Web pages at more than 22,000 Web sites across the federal government alone, and more than 60 percent of all Internet users in the U.S. interact with federal government Web sites each year.

The Guidelines were originally developed by the NCI to help Web managers and designers present cancer information on the Web in a more usable fashion. Although the original intent was to develop guidelines for improving specific federal sites on cancer, the project expanded in scope and resulted in a set of peer-reviewed guidelines that are applicable to Web site usability and design regardless of whether a site is developed by government, commercial, academic or other entities.

"NCI staff compiled guidelines from a wide variety of sources, including existing Web design and style guides, published research articles, publicly available usability test reports, and lessons learned from in-house usability tests," said NCI Director Andrew C. von Eschenbach, M.D. "This guide contributes to the growing need to establish and utilize standards of excellence for Web design and usability."

The new resource contains 187 guidelines for effective Web design and usability and covers a wide range of Web site design issues, including accessibility, home page design, page and site navigation, graphics and images, Web content organization and effective Web content writing. Each guideline contains:

  • A brief statement of the overarching principle that is the foundation of the guideline;
  • Comments that further explain the research/supporting information;
  • Citations to relevant Web sites, technical and/or research reports supporting the guideline.
  • A score indicating the "Strength of Evidence" that supports the guideline. These range from "Strong Research Support," indicating that there is at least one formal, rigorous study with contextual validity and agreement among experts to "Weak Research Support," indicating limited evidence and disagreement among experts.
  • A score indicating the "Relative Importance" of the guideline to the overall success of a Web site. These scores range from 1-5 and are intended to help guide usability experts and Web designers to prioritize the implementation of these guidelines.
  • One or more graphic examples of the guideline in practice.

NCI solicited experts from across government, industry and academia to contribute to the development of the guidelines. The UPA has made arrangements with the Department of Health and Human Services to publish these guidelines in book form and make them available to the web design and usability community. You can preview the book as PDF files on the usability.gov web site.

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