Ten Thoughts on Usability Guidelines

Model of the Human Processor
Image via Wikipedia

Getting through cultural issues in developing software or other marketing materials that others in your organization (or client organization) is often more challenging than writing, optimizing and testing code or even designing the interface. Here are some things I’ve learned about creating styleguides for use in intranet projects (AKA the thing that tells everyone how they should be dumping their brain into the system):

  1. Make it as short as possible. Remember that people have jobs to do and it’s better that they put the info in the intranet incorrectly than not at all.
  2. Use visual examples of positive and negative use. Make sure that these visual examples clearly show why the “on-guideline” version makes their life easier. If it doesn’t make their life easier, perhaps the guideline isn’t required.
  3. Try to incorporate the guidelines into the application/site itself. If you want specific header-tags used for headlines, have a separate text-entry box that formats the headline to your tag spec. If you want people to only use italics or bold for specific types of knowledge, include a short instruction right next to the text block. Anywhere that you can include instruction and advice right in the interface is worth far far more than the actual document in terms of getting the organization to adopt your standards.
  4. Include links to specific guideline sections right in the interface (an extended version of item 3). Have “read more” links in your in-interface advice that go to short pop-ups (ala a help system).
  5. Each entry of your guideline might consist of one brief sentence describing the rule, one brief sentence describing why the rule exists, and positive/negative examples. Avoid paragraph length text.
  6. Now take that same document from item 5 above and reverse it so that you start with a problem-based statement and then a solution (your rule).
  7. If you’re comfortable with the risk, consider a wiki-type intranet system. There’s always some busy-body who will enjoy going through and making the content conform to the guidelines.
  8. Before/During/After roll-out, survey the users to see if they understand the guidelines and whether the guidelines are valuable or not.
  9. Determine how you/your boss/your stakeholders/etc will measure the success of your guidelines before roll out. Keep this in mind as you design and deploy.
  10. Continue measuring and improving your intranet with the guidelines involved.

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