Handbook for quality in cultural Web sites
Improving quality for citizens
Appendix 2 - Catalogue of Patterns
- 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
1.10 Who we are
1.11 Modes of use
- 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
- Navigating the Site
3.1 Clear Reference Points
3.2 Navigation Systems
3.3 Main Navigation
3.4 Secondary Navigation
3.5 Contextual Navigation
3.8 Reliable Bookmarks
- Doing a Search
4.1 Search Page
4.2 Basic Search
4.3 Advanced Search
4.4 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)
- Interact with the Users
5.2 Communicate the Result
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
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.
GROUP RELEVANT INFORMATION
Context: The characteristics of the Web differ
from those of other means of communication such as print, television
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
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
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.
- 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
Because it is read in a different way, the Web has developed
its own form of writing, which differs from that of books and
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
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.
When considering the graphics of a page, the following points
should be taken into account:
- 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.
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 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;
The only exceptions to this homogeneity of page presentation
(coherence) could be the Clear Reference Points
as these perform a particular function.
- The zones must be graphically distinct. Careful use of
colour backgrounds eases identification.
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
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
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.
SECONDARY HOME PAGE
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
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.
WHO WE ARE
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.
MODES OF USE
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
EASE OF READING
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
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
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
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
This technique, also known as “liquid layout”, consists
- 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
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
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
CLEAR REFERENCE POINTS
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
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
- 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
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
Problem: How can the site supply a navigation
mode without presenting lists of options that are too long for
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
- The content is easily memorable and thus:
- It must not contain more than six or seven elements. This is
widely recognised as the limit of the human capacity for short
- 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,
- elements must be presented in real list, text format and not
- 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
- 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
- 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.
Context: 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
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
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
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
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.
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
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,
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
- 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
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
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
- Look for THE EXACT PHRASE
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.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
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
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
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).
- 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
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
- fields should be presented in logical and reasonably
- 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
“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
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
- The user has made semantic errors or errors of format in filling
in the fields in the Form;
- The user has not filled in the compulsory fields;
- The user has filled in all fields correctly.
In cases 1 and 2, a message should be received informing the
- That there is an error, stating the reason (semantic, format,
omission). this information message should be clearly visible
on the page;
- where there is an error, the field concerned should be highlighted;
- 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
Conditions: The users must be able to communicate
all the data at once; must have control over managing their personal
Problem: How can users identify themselves
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
Always Communicate the Results of
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
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:
- Only information which is really relevant should be requested;
- 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;
- After each step, the users should receive feedback (Communicate
- There must be a procedure or function which allows users to
modify data and cancel Registration;
- 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
Problem: How can the user’s trust be
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
- 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
- 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: