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Path: Home | Publications | Quality criteria  |  Table of contents  | Preface


Handbook for quality in cultural Web sites
Improving quality for citizens

Appendix 2 - Catalogue of Patterns

  1. Make Contents Clear
    1.1 Site Structure
    1.2 Group Relevant Information
    1.3 Meaningful Name
    1.4 Page Structure
    1.5 Home Page
    1.6 Secondary Home Page
    1.7 Language Selector
    1.8 Site Map
    1.9 News
    1.10 Who we are
    1.11 Modes of use
  2. Present the Contents
    2.1 Ease of Reading
    2.2 Supplementary Information
    2.2.1. Variable Geometry
    2.3 Page Layout
    2.4 Print Version
  3. Navigating the Site
    3.1 Clear Reference Points
    3.2 Navigation Systems
    3.3 Main Navigation
    3.4 Secondary Navigation
    3.5 Contextual Navigation
    3.6 Meta-Navigation
    3.7 Breadcrumbs
    3.8 Reliable Bookmarks
  4. Doing a Search
    4.1 Search Page
    4.2 Basic Search
    4.3 Advanced Search
    4.4 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)
  5. Interact with the Users
    5.1 Form
    5.2 Communicate the Result
    5.3 Login
    5.4 Registration
    5.5 Newsletter


1. Make Contents Clear


Context: The site contains a large amount of varying information (news, documents, multimedia elements, etc.). It is not usually possible to present all this information on a single page, nor even to place all the links on the same page.

Conditions: The identity of the supplier of the information must be clear and the general content immediately obvious so that users can then proceed to a more detailed examination. Contents must be of good quality with no risk of disorientation.

Problem: Can the contents of a site be organised clearly in a way that allows users to explore freely without having to follow obligatory paths and without excessive constraints on choice?

Solution: Contents that are conceptually homogeneous should be grouped together.
That is to say Group Relevant Information according to two main criteria:

  • grouped information should be conceptually homogeneous,
  • the description of contents should proceed from the general to the specific.

There will be areas, sections and sub-sections, within which the contents become progressively richer and the information more detailed. The criterion of homogeneity of grouping should reflect the users’ point of view and not that of the planner. Hierarchical ordering of information constitutes a fundamental aid to the clarity and usability of a site. A hierarchical structure, with the Home Page at the top, will thus be constructed and will assume the role of introducing the identity of the site and its contents. Within this hierarchical structure the Clear Reference Points are inserted so that the Navigation Systems can help users travel the structure both vertically and horizontally. The Hyper-textual nature of the Web allows users to build personalised conceptual organisation of content, which may differ from that of the site planner. Lastly, the Site Structure allows for the construction of an effective and efficient Page Structure.

Notes: Organising the information of a site is the most complex and delicate job in the whole planning process. In public sites there is often a tendency to organise contents according to the organisational structure of the Administration, General Management, Departments, Offices etc., and to use language suited to the running of public a public entity. It is mistakenly assumed that users are aware of the above. Furthermore, the subject could be the field of diverse organisational bodies within an Administration: on the site however, users should be able to examine the subject in the most complete and exhaustive manner, according to the conceptual model they formed.



Context: The characteristics of the Web differ from those of other means of communication such as print, television and radio.

Conditions: The computer monitor displays much less text than that which can be viewed at one time on the page of a book or newspaper. Unlike television and radio, the hypertext nature of the Web allows users to access information non-sequentially.

Problem: How can content be adapted to the characteristics of the Web and the way in which users employ sites?

Solution: Organise content clearly and so that main information is easily distinguishable from secondary or supporting information.
This is fundamental in order to:

  • decide the hierarchy of information necessary to set up the Site Structure and Page Structure,
  • construct well organised information for the structure of
  • the text which carries the information,
  • create efficient and effective Forms.

Allocating different graphics to different areas can also differentiate contents.



Context: The page title, the text of a link, the title of a document, are very significant elements of a Web site. Indeed, these elements are used not only for their own end, but also to navigate the site, to make contents obvious, and to facilitate the reading of the pages.

Conditions: Users form a wide and unselected public; they may not understand specialist or specific terms, professional jargon or unusual words.

Problem: How can important elements be described in a way comprehensible to most users?

Solution: Use plain language and short sentences to describe real things before concepts.
In other words; use short texts (40 –60 characters), which should be considered “micro-contents” and which can give users a brief and immediate idea of what they are consulting. These texts should therefore be considered concentrates of content. In particular:

  • Page title should be pertinent and significant. It should be specific and refer to the contents of the current page; showing first the specific page (specific) and then the name of the site (general). The page title helps users to navigate as it appears in the browser list of pages visited (Back Button);
  • As far as possible, user metaphors from life to describe the function of the Navigation Systems. A link called “ pay taxes” is probably more meaningful than “Tax and Excises Office;”
  • Use Supplementary Information to clarify the destination of a link, even when within the text;
  • Give meaningful titles to document text, as this constitutes first level reading. Titles must be a concise summary of the entire content.

Because it is read in a different way, the Web has developed its own form of writing, which differs from that of books and newspapers.


Context: The page is the most common way to present the information contained in a site. It is often the only possible way. Besides containing information however, the page must also carry the tools with which users interact with the site: navigation bar, links to other information, useful tools, etc.

Conditions: Users must be able to access the various zones of the page with ease and the content of each zone must be related to that of another (i.e. users want clarity in the relation between the information content of the current page and the path which they used to reach it).

Problem: How can the page be organised in such a way that users can clearly perceive the difference between strictly informational content and service information – the latter being features such as site recognition, navigation tools, advertising etc…?

Solution: Organise all the pages of the site in the same way, with well-defined zones that do not overlap either physically or logically.
A common model of Page Structure provides for three distinct zones:

  • The Heading, which contains all the distinctive elements of the site identity (Logo, denomination etc.) and is usually to be found at the top left of the page. Sometimes this includes elements of services, such as Meta-navigation. When images are used in the heading, these must be accompanied by adequate text description. Images should be used only when strictly necessary as they are ill suited to the Variable Geometry ideally used to realise a page.
    • The body of the page contains information in the strict sense. Inside the page there can be further service information such as Breadcrumbs, indexes (Secondary Navigation), and Contextual Navigation. In practice, the body should also be considered an area that can be further sub-divided.
    • Finally, the navigation bar (Main Navigation) contains fast links to the entry page (Clear Reference Points) of each of the sections into which the site is structured.
    When considering the graphics of a page, the following points should be taken into account:
    • The page should be realised using Variable Geometry in order to allow users to change the size of the browser window and font size at will.
    • The real seque nce of the zones should be:
      Heading – Body – Navigation Bar
      regardless of how these appear on the screen. This can be of advantage to users with text browser or voice synthesis. There are various techniques to realise this solution;
    A navigation system should be incorporated in the page. This should allow users to pass from one zone to another even without a graphic browser;
    • The zones must be graphically distinct. Careful use of colour backgrounds eases identification.
    The only exceptions to this homogeneity of page presentation (coherence) could be the Clear Reference Points as these perform a particular function.
    The Home Page of the site is in some ways autonomous of the rest of the site, acting as a window or presentation of the site. Thus it can have a different structure. A Secondary Home Page may contain essentially service information: description of informative contents in the area, index of sub-sections, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s), related to the subject, contacts for referents, etc.



Context: Every Web site has a Home Page. This is usually the main access point and is also the most visited page of the site.

Conditions: Position must be obvious; an idea of the contents and their organisation within the site must be immediately clear; tools for navigation must be available.

Problem: How to realise a Home Page which immediately communicates the identity of the site and its contents, and where users can easily and rapidly find the contents which interest them.

Solution: Create a Home Page which introduces the site and which guides users quickly to the contents.
The Home Page is the most important page of the site. It must fulfil certain tasks:

  • Give certainty as to the identity of the site. Users who were deliberately seeking the site must be sure they have reached the desired site; those who reach the site randomly must immediately be aware of the body responsible for the site and the nature of the content. Identity can be manifested in various ways: with a good Logo, with clear links to a page describing the Organisation responsible for contents (Who we are),
  • Make contents clear. Users often do not find what they are seeking on the Home Page and thus guidance is necessary and Main Navigation should be clearly visible. Meta-navigation is another important element that should be in view, offering functions such as Search, Site Map, which can be of immediate use.
  • Establish interactive contact with the users. Users ever more demand direct interaction with the Organisation which is responsible for the site. A clear space on the Home Page should be dedicated to the interactive functions available (Login, Newsletter, …)
  • Communicate News. All site novelties should be announced on the Home Page: new documents, initiatives, etc. The Home Page should contain a space dedicated to News.

Home Pages are often filled with excess information in the mistaken belief that being on the Home Page means being visible. Experience shows that this is not the case: too much information leads to confusion and users do not see what they need. The Home Page is a special page and its structure can differ from that of other pages in the site. However, the general consistency must be the same; that is to say, elements such as Meta-navigation and Main Navigation must have the same format and the same position as the other pages.



Context: The hierarchical structure of a site can consist of a large number of levels. Each level can, in turn, contain numerous sections. It is not always possible to contain or limit this complexity.

Conditions: Users must not become disoriented; must not be forced to remember the branches of the structure, and must be able to rely on certain, well-defined paths.

Problem: How can the site offer a description of the structure that allows users to build a conceptual model of the site?

Solution: Create pages that describe the contents of the sections.
These are “section Home Pages” (including News of the section concerned) and which, like the site Home Page, make the contents of the section clear. The body (Page Structure) of a Secondary Home Page should contain a list of sub-sections together with the relative links. Each element in the list should be accompanied by a brief description of the content. This list could be an ordered list of documents in the section. Where the list is very long, the Secondary Home Page can supply a Form for searching for documents within the section. In this case it should be clear that the Search will be effected only on the documents in the section, and not throughout the whole site. This way of organising the Secondary Home Page, together with Breadcrumbs, offers users a good system for Secondary Navigation and for exploring the contents of a complex site.


Context: The pages of the site are available in various languages.


Problem: Users must be able to choose between the languages available.

Solution: The terms denoting the language should be written in the relative language.
For example, if an Italian site is available in the English version, the selector button should say “English” and not “inglese”. The Language Selector should be placed very visibly in the heading of Page Structure. If the versions in languages other than the principle language of the site are available only for certain pages of the site, the Language Selector should be inserted only into these pages with a feature such as a link title leading to the relevant page.
N.B. Icons with national flags should not be used to indicate language: National flags symbolise nations not languages.


Context: The information contained in a site is structured hierarchically, with areas and sections inter-linked according to criteria chosen by the site planners. The names of sections and areas do not necessarily explain the content.

Conditions: In order to make a quick choice of path for reaching the desired information, users must know the structure of the site.

Problem: How can users be helped in navigating and orienting the site?

Solution: Supply a Site Map.
The Site Map should be easily reached and ideally, should be included in Meta-navigation and be directly accessible from every page.
The Site Map should be created using nested lists in order to give a sense of the hierarchy and depth of the structure. It should be context sensitive in that the current position within the structure is indicated.

Notes: In the case of sites with complex organisation of information, i.e. areas with many sections which in turn, are divided into sub-areas with many documents, the Site Map can itself become a complicated page to read. In this case there is often a tendency to represent the map using an image or picture where directories and sub-directories are nicely drawn. This however, constitutes a serious obstacle to accessibility in an element such as a Site Map, which serves to aid navigation.


Context: A site is an entity in continuous evolution and therefore must have some way of informing users of new information; documents, press releases, announcements of events etc. Giving information of this type is in many cases indispensable: e.g. publication of new laws and regulations, explanatory circulars etc.

Conditions: Users must be informed of news and novelties on the site without having to navigate the site to find it.

Problem: How can users be informed of news?

Solution: Create a zone on the Home Page dedicated to news.
Time and date of last update must be indicated. The list of news should be chronologically ordered, with most recent additions at the top. Each element should give date of publication and a brief description of the published document. Elements should remain in the list for an amount of time dependent on the importance of the content of the document. This is generally not more than a month from publication. During this time, “older” news can be replaced with new elements but care should be taken that news of events remain listed at least until the event is over. The news zone should be clearly visible on the Home Page. A similar solution should be used in the Secondary Home Page, considering however that the news here is relevant only to the section itself.

Notes: The news area is often created using programming tools (applet and script) which present a window inside which elements of news scroll continuously. This method however, renders the news invisible to all those users whose browsers do not support applet and script, who use screen readers or magnifiers, and who do not use a mouse. The result therefore, is to render the news area inaccessible.


Context: The identity of the producer of the information contained in the Web site should be clear. When the producer is also a Cultural Entity it becomes fundamental to state identity, mission and aim of the site.

Conditions: Users should immediately and rapidly be able to recognise the identity of the Cultural Entity that produced the information; mission and aim of the presence of the Public Entity on the Web should be obvious.

Problem: How can the site communicate the identity of the Cultural Entity to the user?

Solution: Provide introductory pages that can be reached from the Main Navigation function.
The introductory pages should clearly describe the identity of the Cultural Entity with information on:

  • The history of the Cultural Entity;
  • Its institutional aims;
  • The cultural and scientific content it produces, conserves, safeguards and diffuses;
  • Its organisational structure;
  • Its seat and area of operation.


Context: The site contains material subject to copyright. Users may be asked to give sensitive personal details or information protected by privacy laws.

Conditions: Users must be aware of the conditions for using the documents on the site; must know the policies for privacy and security that are activated; must know the policy for accessibility of content.

Problem: How can users be informed of the conditions of use of the site?

Solution: Every page can contain links to pages that describe the conditions of use. These links can be presented as horizontal bars such as:

Conditions of use | Copyright | Privacy | Accessibility

The descriptive pages should employ clear and simple language; avoiding jargon or technical terms. These pages should give users some opportunity for direct feedback on content.

Present the Contents


Context: A great deal of information, such as results of a search or presentation of records of a DataBase must be presented in table form (rows and columns).

Conditions: The table may be complex; with many columns or have rows full of text which makes it difficult to read.

Problem: The table must be easily legible in order to facilitate the search for particular pieces of information.

Solution: Alternate the background colour of the rows.
Use two slightly different shades of a soft colour. The resulting effect can be heightened with the introduction of a dark, horizontal line between the rows in the table.

Notes: Alternating colours and a horizontal line eliminate the need for drawing the borders on the table. Borders make tables difficult to read on the monitor.



Context: The information contained in a site is by nature hyper-textual: a document can lead to other documents to be found in the same site or in other sites. Unlike paper documents, which usually present quotes and bibliographic references together in a special final section (or in notes and footnotes), in a Web document, these elements are inserted directly into the text via hypertext links.

Condition: Users may desire to evaluate whether a hypertext link is useful for the ends of understanding the document currently under examination. It must be clear whether a link will open in another window.

Problem: How can the content of the destination of the link be communicated?

Solution: Show a brief description of the aims of the link and its destination. Supplementary information is extra and redundant because it is to be supposed that the context clarifies the aim of the proposed link. The supplementary information appears in the form of a small window that appears when the mouse is passed over the link title.
The “message” should not be so long as to disturb the reading of the document: a short phrase is usually sufficient.

Notes: It is fundamental that users be informed whether links will open in a new window and, above all, whether the document is situated in another site. Indeed, a different site would present a different environment, which could disorient users.



Context: The presentation of a Web page is very important: the page dimensions and relation between the proportions of various zones on the page, is the result of planning according to the function of the content.

Conditions: Users may require size of the browser window and of the text font to differ from that established and pre-set by the site planner.

Problem: How can users view the page and its content easily and independently of the size of the browser window and the text font?

Solution: Create pages with variable geometry, and where font size and dimensions of the browser window can be easily changed.
This technique, also known as “liquid layout”, consists of using:

  • proportional rather than absolute units of measure in defining the width of the elements of a page;
  • Proportional rather than absolute measures in defining the font used in the text.

Notes: Notes such as “Optimised at 800x600 screen resolution” are still to be found on the Web. While application of the resolution advised might solve graphic requirements, users may prefer not to, or even be unable to apply the specific settings. Web graphics designers must take into account the fact that preferred user-modes for viewing the pages of the site cannot always be predicted and imposing conditions can restrict access. In certain situations users may prefer to choose reduced quality of graphics, rather than conform to constraints.



Context: A page can contain a great deal of information. It may be the end result of a search consisting of many elements or may be a very long document.

Conditions: There must be some indication of the quantity of information currently available and time this information must be usable.

Problem: How can large quantities of information be presented in order to maximise ease, pleasantness and effectiveness of use?

Solution: The information should be divided into pages; both the total number of pages and the position of the current page should be indicated. This information should appear at the top and bottom of every page and should have a format such as:

Page 4 of 5            < previous 1 2 3 4 5 next>

On the left is the position of the current page. On the right is a mini navigation-bar with bold type to indicate the current page, while the other pages are active links.
There is no single criterion for page layout, nor is it possible to give precise indications for its organisation. While the results of a Basic Search or an Advanced Search can show 10 elements found per page, it is not possible to give similarly precise indications for a long document. It is possible to define the maximum number of lines per page and thus the programme automatically composes the page layout. This can lead, however, to problems with logical division of the text. Only by analysing the text of each single document can the best solution be reached (automatic or manual page layout).



Context: While the Web is a tool conceived for on-line consultation of information, the length of the text or the need for more a more detailed examination, often mean that a page or document found on the site requires off-line consultation.

Conditions: Users desire to print a clean version of the text, without navigation bars and other non-relevant objects; the text must be printed correctly according to the format set-up on the printer.

Problem: How can correct print version of the content of the page or document be offered?

Solution: Provide an ad hoc version of the document for printing purposes, to be reached via a link such as print version, inserted at the top and bottom of the page. The print version is in fact a separate, single page with layout that usually includes only the heading, the text and notes such as “Printed: date… From: site address… page n. of n….” It has font and size that can easily be adapted to the fonts recognised by the printer. Constructing a page with Variable Geometry can attain these features. If the current page is a part of a document (Page Layout) then the print version will apply to the whole document. The text is printed in two steps: first access the link with print version, next activate the print command from the browser.
In other words, the print version of a document must not be reached through programme elements such as script of applet that interact directly with the local printer. In this way users maintain complete control of the process and can interrupt printing without interfering with navigation on the site.

Navigating the Site


Context: The site is organised into a hierarchical structure that may have a number of levels. Furthermore, the information content may cover many different topics that cannot always be easily inter-linked.

Conditions: A complex site can be disorienting for first-time visitors, especially if it is reached from a link on another site. In a complex site, the navigation tools may give very specialised information, or too much information or to render them immediately useful. On the other hand, users who are familiar with the site do not need to follow long hierarchical trees to move within it.

Problem: How can a site indicate a good starting point for navigation?

Solution: Supply clear reference points, which can be reached immediately from any page. The Home Page - the most obvious reference point - gives indications on the organisation of the site, its contents and the Navigation Systems available. Where they include a large amount of information, the areas and sections (Site Structure), should have their own home page (Secondary Home Page) which explains content and further sub-divisions. These Clear Reference Points constitute an ideal place for creating Reliable Bookmarks compiled by the habitual or interested user. Other Clear Reference Points could be Search Page and Site Map.



Context: Users are initially unaware of the organisation of site contents. Generally speaking, the larger the content, the more difficult is its presentation.

Conditions: Users must be able to explore the structure and navigate the site with relative ease; must have various means of doing so; must rely on what they know and see; must not become disoriented.

Problem: How can navigation be facilitated?

Solution: Plan various navigation systems which work together to offer various alternative methods.
The various navigation systems are:

  • Main Navigation: leads to the principle areas that form the Site Structure. It is present on every page of the site and is always in the same position in the Page Structure. A link to Secondary Home Page, which describes the contents of the area, is usually included as one of its elements.
  • Secondary Navigation: leads to exploration of the underlying structure of an area or section. It does not have a fixed position on each page of the site because its characteristics depend on the degree of complexity of the Site Structure.
  • Meta-navigation: includes indispensable utilities for supplementing inevitable shortcomings in the other Navigation Systems.
  • Contextual Navigation is used to construct a grouping of linked documents - a dossier. It is usually positioned to the right of the body of the Page Structure, so as to be visible and create a graphic lead-in to the central content.
    The various systems of navigation can be planned in order to offer inter-complementary information. Links to the same object in different systems should be avoided.



Context: The site is hierarchically organised into areas, sections and sub-sections. The whole constitutes a large number of elements.

Conditions: Users must be able to orient easily throughout the structure of the site. Too much information could be disorienting.

Problem: How can the site supply a navigation mode without presenting lists of options that are too long for practicable consultation?

Solution: Build a main navigation system (navigation bar) including no more than six or seven elements and which appears in the same position in the structure of every page. The navigation bar is one of the most important components of a page in that it gives users a clear idea of content and allows navigation without disorientation. For this reason it is important that:

  • The content is easily memorable and thus:
    1. It must not contain more than six or seven elements. This is widely recognised as the limit of the human capacity for short term memory,
    2. Each element must have a Meaningful Name that readily evokes the content of the destination. This generally links to the Secondary Home Page, which describes the content of the areas (Site Structure). Supplementary Information can be added to each element to give further clarity,
    3. elements must be presented in real list, text format and not images;
  • The Main Navigation Bar should be in the same position on every page. The Web offers interesting options that allow the Main Navigation to be linked to other Navigation Systems present on the site. The most common options are:
    1. Place the navigation bar on one or two horizontal rows immediately below the page heading. This option:
      • has the advantage of leaving as much space as possible for the body of the page,
      • has the advantage of being always and totally foregrounded,
      • has the disadvantage of limited space. The size of the page (Variable Geometry) depends on choices made by the user. The real width depends on the width of the open browser window. The choice of character display on the screen can further decrease the available length of the horizontal row. As it is impossible to predict the space available, it becomes impossible to establish the number of elements and the length of each so as to maintain reasonable page layout in varying conditions.
      • Has the disadvantage of potential confusion with elements of Meta-navigation, which are usually placed in the heading immediately above.
    2. Place the navigation bar in a column to the left of the page. This option largely maintains the advantages of the former while not having the same disadvantages. It is easily adaptable to the real size of the window and is clearly distinct from all other Navigation Systems present. Indeed, it is the option most frequently adopted in successful sites.
  • The navigation bar must have the same graphical aspect on all the pages. Background colour, text colour and list markers must be consistently the same.



: The site is organised with a hierarchical structure. There is a Main Navigation system. Single areas are organised into sections or contain a large number of documents.

Conditions: Users must be able to orient easily throughout the structure of the section. Too much information could be disorienting.

Problem: How can the site supply a way of navigating the chosen area without presenting a list of options that is too long for practicable consultation?

Solution: Build a Secondary Navigation System (index) which is distinct from Main Navigation and consists simply of a list of sections into which the single area is divided.
Creating a good system of Secondary Navigation poses more questions than Main Navigation due to the existing of multiple variables, not all of which are clearly definable at the planning stage of the site. How many sections should an area contain? How can an index of the documents in a section be organised effectively and efficiently, especially when the number of documents is large? In this case, it is considered reasonable to imagine an area and the entire structure below it as a separate site, and thus to apply to it the criteria which are valid for the whole site. Coherence is guaranteed by the heading and the Main Navigation bar, which are the same for every page. In conclusion:

  • The Secondary Home Page acts as a Home Page and therefore introduces the content of the area: a list of the sub-sections or a list of the documents present. More specifically:
    • an annotated list of the sections where every element, besides having a Meaningful Name, has a description of contents,
    • The documents are listed in order according to criteria chosen by the user. When there is a large number of documents, the technique of Page Layout is used, Search Hints are given, there are answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) relative to the topics and contact for referents are given.
  • Breadcrumbs give an idea of the depth of the structure and aid navigation within it,
  • Contextual Navigation can also allow users to explore a group of documents related to the document under current perusal.



Context: A document is a conceptual part of a greater whole of documents, or is a part of a more complex document – i.e. a chapter of a book.

Conditions: Users need a perception of the whole of the documents or the entire document. The single documents that make up the whole must be accessible.

Problem: How can a virtual dossier or a complex document be constructed in a way that makes it easily usable?

Solution: Create a navigation system that:

  • Contains links to all the documents in the dossier or the whole complex document. The documents can be:
    • text documents
    • multimedia documents
    • links to external sites
  • is common to all the documents in the dossier (where they belong to the site)
  • visually and graphically connect with the central text of the document

The ideal position for Contextual Navigation is to the right of the body of the Page Structure.

Notes: Contextual Navigation should not be confused with Page Layout of a document. This latter resolves problems of legibility related to technical characteristics of tools used for navigating the Web, while Contextual Navigation resolves the problem of offering richness and completeness of content.



Context: However well planned, site navigation tools may prove to be insufficient for fast and reliable access to information. This may be the case for users who need to contact the site or the Organisation on the basis of information retrieved during navigation or because the information sought is not present.

Conditions: Certain types of function for use on the site are relevant to every page.

Problem: How can help tools be made readily available?

Solution: Every page should have a zone containing elements for communication and general functioning.
These elements are usually: Home, Search Page, Site Map. Home indicates a link to the Home Page. In order to give the sense of a single block, all the elements of Meta-navigation should be visibly grouped in the same place on every page. An ideal position is the heading of Page Structure, just after the Logo.

Notes: One feature of the elements of Meta-navigation is that of opening a new window. Indeed, each element needs further explanation, which can be briefly included directly in the page from whence it will be used.



Context: The site and the information it contains are structured into various levels. There are a large number of levels, or the site is notably complex. The site has a system of Main Navigation and Secondary Navigation.

Conditions: Users may not be familiar with the structure of the site, may wish to pass to previous points on the path without having to backtrack via repeated pressing of the “Back” button of the browser. Users need to understand the structure of the information and create a map by associating aspects and features of a type of document to the path followed, in order to trace the document.

Problem: How can the page show users their current position within the structure?

Solution: Show the path from the Home Page to the current page.

Every page except the Home Page, should contain something similar to the following:

Home > Area > Section > Current Page

where Home refers to the Home Page and Area, Section and Current Page are titles of the area, section and current page respectively. The path shows the position of the current page with respect to the structure of the site. The elements in the path are active links and offer immediate access. Current Page, on the other hand, should not be a link as it is generally considered a serious mistake to place links to current page, except where these leads to other parts of the same. Separation of various points on the path can be shown using the “more than” symbol >. Other characters such as slash /, or => “equals more than” give a sense of progression.

The names used to mark the path must be the meaningful names (with the exclusion of Home Page, which has by now entered common usage). Areas and sections usually adopt the name that appears in the Main Navigation (area) and in Secondary Navigation (section). The Current Page should be indicated using the page title.

The path should be inserted at the beginning (to the left of the first line) of the area contained in Page Structure. In this way it is immediately visible and does not steal space from the main content of the page.

Notes: The path must be realised using text and not images or symbols such as arrows and other graphical elements (e.g. Windows icons and symbols), which would compromise legibility and accessibility.



Context: The bookmark function is present in all browsers and is extremely useful. For various reasons however, the URL of pages in the site may be changed, thus rendering bookmarking useless.

Conditions: Users require bookmarks that will remain valid in time.

Problem: How can the site guarantee that users’ bookmarks remain valid?

Solution: In case the URL of a page is modified, supply an automatic re-addressing function for the new URL, with note to the user when updating has occurred.
(Communicate Results).
Inauspicious messages such as “Error 404: Object Not Found”, with its many variants, informing users of the inaccessibility of documents and/or changes in links and address, are unpleasant and express negligence on the part of the site managers. The error is often due to mistaken description of the page URL.
When similar messages appear after bookmarking a page, displeasure on the part of the user is even greater. It takes little to avoid such errors; first of all, care should be taken in writing the URL of links, and a “de visu” check on validity should be effected. Secondly, when change of address is deliberate, a page should be created informing users of the new URL and automatically redirecting to the new destination. Where re-directing is not possible, it is often possible to personalise the Web server so that when a bookmarked page is not found, the user reaches a page that not only explains the error clearly, but also supplies help and functions for recovering the lost bookmark.

Doing a Search


Context: Even in sites with a good Navigation System it can be difficult to find certain information. The presence of a Search tool is therefore a fundamental aid to the navigation system.

Conditions: Information can be sought in many ways; search is an auxiliary to navigation and must not substitute it; users may not be familiar with sophisticated search techniques and may not know the classification methods of the documents contained within a site.

Problem: How can users seek a document in the site?

Solution: Provide a page dedicated to search. Provide a page dedicated to search, which guarantees the users immediate availability of these functions from any page of the site (Clear Reference Points, Meta-navigation). The page can be structured (Page Structure) to give users full access to search tools (Basic Search, Advanced Search, Frequently Asked Questions, suggestions, etc.)
There should be a single Search Page for the whole site. This page should clearly define exactly what users can search for. Users may not have the same concept of a document or page as the site planners. Time intervals of documents in the site should be defined (e.g. with simple examples), and the available search modes should be explained.



Context: The site has a good Navigation System and a Search Page. The latter offers various search modes.

Conditions: The user is not an expert in seeking documents, and therefore is not familiar with concepts such as Boolean loop, similarity, etc. The user employs familiar terms that may originate in everyday language rather than technical or specialist jargon.

Problem: How can the site supply a simple and immediate search tool?

Solution: Offer a search mode where the only option is to indicate a word or phrase to search for. This function should be presented in a Form with a single field carrying a label such as “text to look for” followed by a field into which the user types the text and a “Search” button for starting the Search.
The results of the search should be presented on a new page in the form of a list ordered for Ease of Reading. The order in which the results are presented in specified on the Search Page. The number of elements in the list should not exceed 10: in the case of more than 10 elements, Page Layout should indicate both the total number of elements found, and the total number of pages into which they are divided. Every element should indicate:

  • Page Title
  • Path from Home Page to the element found.(Breadcrumbs)
  • Two or three lines of text from the page found
  • URL, size and date

Notes: The text to look for can consist of one or more words. The Search Page should specify how the search engine functions in the case of a text with more than one word. In this search mode it is not usual for users to use the logical operators AND, OR and NOT: How many users really understand the meaning and how many use them correctly? It would be advisable to provide rely on provision of a good Advanced Search.



Context: The site has good Navigation Systems and a Basic Search tool.

Conditions: The user wishes to personalise search parameters and criteria; the user wishes to control the search mode but does not know how; the user wishes to employ successive filters on the searches and to control the presentation of the results of the search.

Problem: How can search functions on the site be strengthened?

Solution: Offer an advanced search mode that allows users to control at least:

  • search chain
  • area of the site to be searched
  • time reference of the documents sought
  • presentation of the results

In order to allow the user to manage the search chain in the simplest way is to offer three classical choices:

  • Look for ALL the words
  • Look for AT LEAST ONE word

The user can be allowed to define limits to the area of search within the site by offering the choice of limiting the search to one or more chosen areas (where the site is organised in such a way through an appropriate Site Structure), or by offering a choice between various types of documents (where documents have been thus classified). This case however, is more difficult to realise because the problems of classifying documents in the field of archives and libraries are here exacerbated by the hazy definition of the concept of document when applied to a Web site.

When considering the time reference of documents present on the site, particular attention should be paid to the definition of time period. Indeed, depending on the type of document, this definition could seem to refer to either the date of insertion of the document in the site (system date), or to the juridical and administrative validity of documents such as laws, regulations, circulars, communications, etc.

Finally, results of the search can be organised by giving the option of modifying one or more aspects of the presentation of results for the Basic Search: the number of elements per page, the typical features of each element presented, etc.



Context: When a Public Administrative Body is present on Internet with a Web site, a window is opened to the citizen. Even when interactivity – taken to be the possibility for direct communication between citizen and Administration – is limited or absent, the citizen expects to find answers to questions and doubts about topics relevant and pertinent to the said administrative body.

Conditions: The user wishes to know “how to act” with respect to a norm or regulation, not the “reasoning” behind said norm or regulation; the user brings a “personal case” to which an answer is required.

Problem: How can users’ questions be predicted?

Solution: Provide a system with answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) that is appropriate to the structure of the information present in the site.
The system of FAQ’s is a well-proven method for supplying information on the information present in a site. Site visitors are often advised to read the FAQ’s before sending e-mails with questions. Via the FAQ’s, users are guided to an optimum use of the site information.

The system of FAQ’s should be directly connected to the mode for communicating with the user and should be “context sensitive”. On opening the page for communication the FAQ’s should be found.

Well-organised FAQ’s should be contained in a thematic index where the themes are the topics of the areas and sections of the site (Site Structure).
And thus:

  • General FAQ’s, activated from the Home Page;
  • Thematic FAQ’s, activated from every single section (or from every single area);
  • Section FAQ’s, activated from documents/pages of particular relevance.

Interact with the Users


Context: Forms are one of the most common methods for communication between users and the Web site. The user must supply information, filling in fields/lozenges or giving guided answers to questions. The information thus requested is usually in “codified” and not discursive form.

Conditions: The user wishes to understand clearly the type of information requested; it should be clear which fields are compulsory and which are optional.

Problem: How can the type of information required be indicated clearly and simply?

Solution: Plan forms with:

  • A Meaningful Name
  • The length of the field or lozenge should be appropriate to the information requested
  • Labels for the fields should be clear, well placed and expressed in plain and familiar language
  • the “focus” in the field to fill in should be highlighted
  • fields should be presented in logical and reasonably comprehensible succession
  • Compulsory fields should be grouped together and distinguished from optional fields, perhaps with explicit statements at the beginning of each group.

Meaningful Name and a brief description of the reasons for filling in the form.

Appropriate length: A field is usually made up of a box in which the user can write freely. The length of the box should reflect the average probable length of the text.

  • Labels for the fields should be clear, well placed with relation to the field: Clear labels in the request for information: if a label indicate address, it must indicate whether road, number, CAP and city should be inserted, or only one or part of this information. Well positioned is to be taken to mean near to the field to which it refers and vertically aligned, as should be the boxes to be filled in. Tidy presentation facilitates use.

“Focus” in the field to fill in should be highlighted: for example by changing colour of the label and the relevant box and adding Supplementary Information.

Logical succession in the fields: If, for example, the form requests both personal and professional information, all fields relative to the first group should be followed by all fields relative to the second.

Group compulsory fields: On the Web there is a tendency to present forms with the intent of acquiring information for “statistical purposes”. This disturbs the user; filling in forms takes time and time, on the Web, is money. Compulsory fields should therefore be distinct form optional fields to allow the user to fill in the first and then send the form. The beginning and end of compulsory fields should be clearly indicated, perhaps graphically.



Context: Users interact continuously with the site: navigate via links; fill in forms for searches or to send information; download various types of documents from the site to their computer.

Conditions: In order to maintain control of the situation, users need feedback on the results of operations and actions undertaken.

Problem: How can appropriate feedback be given on users’ actions?

Solution: Inform users, both implicitly and explicitly, of the results of their actions.

Navigation: When users follow a link, they should receive information on correct execution of the action and appearance of the requested page (implicit communication) or a page explaining why the requested page is not available and what steps to follow to obtain it.

Fill in forms: The user has correctly filled in the input fields in a form. The following are some of the most common results:

  1. The user has made semantic errors or errors of format in filling in the fields in the Form;
  2. The user has not filled in the compulsory fields;
  3. The user has filled in all fields correctly.

In cases 1 and 2, a message should be received informing the user:

  1. That there is an error, stating the reason (semantic, format, omission). this information message should be clearly visible on the page;
  2. where there is an error, the field concerned should be highlighted;
  3. How to correct the error, for example by supplying an example indication the format and the correct syntax for the information to be supplied.

In case 3, the method chosen to Communicate the Result depends on the reasons for filling in the form: for Search, for Registration or for Login.

Download Files: When the site offers the feature of downloading files, the type and size of the file should always be indicated. This is in order to inform users of the implications of the operation before it is undertaken.



Context: On the site there are some functions, such as the Newsletter, taking part in discussion groups and access to reserved sections, where the user is required to give identification. A great deal of information could be requested and this data can consist of personal details such as name, age, address and e-mail address.

Conditions: The users must be able to communicate all the data at once; must have control over managing their personal data.

Problem: How can users identify themselves easily?

Solution: Activate a function of recognition based on very few parameters that are easy to remember.

The parameters for recognition should be reduced to two: user name and password. The complete data, on the other hand, should be requested only once during Registration. Some important features of Login are:

Delayed Login: this means activating the identification procedure only at the moment it is required and not before.

Allow use of an e-mail address as user name: This facilitates safe recovery of password in case it is forgotten.

Allow memorisation of the parameters on the user’s computer, for example through installation of “cookies”. In this way the fields will be automatically filled in with the correct information on successive visits.

Security: Some functions (for example on-line purchase) require that users be aware that the link is effected through safe connections. That is to say, connections with appropriate security protocol.

Always Communicate the Results of the action.



Context: There are some functions that require users to identify themselves via a Login. For these personalised services users are requested to supply various items of personal information which may be of a reserved nature.

Conditions: Users do not wish to be obliged to supply the same information every time they use a personalised service, but wish to be guaranteed correct management of their data.

Problem: How can the site avoid asking users to provide large quantities of personal information every time they access personalised services?

Solution: Offer users the possibility of supplying personal data once only.
The Registration procedure must be realised with great care:

  1. Only information which is really relevant should be requested;
  2. If a lot of information is requested, the procedure should consist of various steps, each of which asks for few and similar pieces of information;
  3. After each step, the users should receive feedback (Communicate the results);
  4. There must be a procedure or function which allows users to modify data and cancel Registration;
  5. The Modes of Use must always be clear and declared.


Context: The site deals with various themes. These can be events, publications, news and links of interest on the themes of the site but external to it.

Conditions: The user trusts the site, recognises its authority in the field of topics dealt with, would like to be regularly informed of news but is not able to visit the site every day.

Problem: How can the user’s trust be rewarded?

Solution: Make a regular Newsletter available.
The Newsletter should be in a form that makes its origin easily recognisable, easy-reading and not too “voluminous”
Typical elements of a Newsletter should be the following:

  • Heading: this should clearly indicate the identity of the sender. The Newsletter would ideally use the same headings (Page Structure) as the site
  • Details of Publication: Year of publication, date and number of issue
  • Index of Articles; titles of the articles, each linked to the corresponding article/item.
  • Articles: no more than 10. Each article should have a Meaningful Name, a brief summary, be written in plain, clear language and have links to related documents;
  • Instructions for enrolment: this should include functions for change of e-mail address, cancellation of the Newsletter, organisation of Registration data (where required), sending comments;
  • Modes of use: authorship rights, privacy, policies for security adopted. This may be an explicit declaration or a link to a page of the site dedicated to Modes of Use.
    The user can enrol for the Newsletter by filling in a Form with details of the e-mail address for receipt. If appropriate, Registration could be required. In any case Communicate the Results of the operation. The Newsletter service should be clearly visible on the HomePage or as a function of Main Navigation. There should be a page dedicated to describing the aims of the Newsletter and its issue dates and users should be able to access the functions necessary for enrolment, cancellation, change of address, access to published back-numbers of the Newsletter, view the Newsletter on-line. The page dedicated to the Newsletter must also figure on the Site Map.

Notes: Respect of dates of issue is an indispensable factor for success of a Newsletter. The Newsletter should not substitute the function of News: the aim of which is to supply broader information on the themes contained in the site:



Copyright Minerva Project 2003-11, last revision 2003-12-04, edited by Minerva Editorial Board.
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