On Web Usability

by Kristen Abell

Lately, I’ve been digging into the book Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug (if you’re tempted to read it, I’m going to suggest you read his updated version – we just had this one at work, so that’s what I’m reading). I often talk with my clients about the end user experience on a website – something we all too often forget to consider when we’re planning a redesign or new website. We think about how we want it to function without thought for how the end user will want it to function. This book is a great reminder that the end user is always who we should be thinking of when planning. A few takeaways from this book:

  • Usability testing – Do it and do it often. This is usually the first step to get cut from our website development process, but after reading this book, I know I’ll fight harder to keep it a part of the process in the future. It usually doesn’t take much time, and we always learn something from it – even if it’s that there is no “typical” user. I especially loved the idea Krug presented about pre-testing – having users test websites you’re looking at for inspiration to see what works and what doesn’t.
  • Accessibility – Do it because it’s the right thing. To be fair, I’ve been trying to work on accessibility on most of my sites for awhile now, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been doing the minimum. This book makes me want to do more than that. I suspect I’ll be digging into some reads and training on accessibility next so I can take this further on my sites.
  • Good design does not always equal good usability – Not that I didn’t sorta already know this, but this clarified it a bit better for me. For example, one of the current trends in design is to make links as unobtrusive as possible. However, that means that a user has to work harder to find these links – which means they are more likely to get frustrated. Even looking at my personal blog, I’m frustrated by the fact that the links are barely noticeable compared to the regular text (will be making changes there soon). This means that when we’re designing websites, we may have to compromise on our aesthetic to make a site more user-friendly.

After reading this book, I’m looking forward to digging into Krug’s other book – Rocket Surgery Made Easy which delves a little deeper into usability, as well as putting some of his thoughts and approaches into practice.

What are your usability tips and tricks? How do you approach usability when building a new site?

On Web Usability

When Did August Get Here?

by Kristen Abell

Hello and welcome back to another academic year of blogging by the fine folks at Student Affairs Women Talk Tech. I think we have all been enjoying our blog vacation, and we are ready to be back and writing scintillating posts for your reading pleasure. We recognize that summer is a good down time for many student affairs professionals, and August for many of us is, well, August.

As for myself, I am in the middle of my second year of my current position as a web developer for student affairs and the university, and I’m still getting used to the fact that my schedule looks quite a bit different from your average student affairs practitioner. Think about it – how many of you wait until the students are gone to turn attention to your websites? I know at my institution that is certainly a trend, and it has resulted in quite a few projects cropping up at the beginning of the summer and winter breaks, as well as at spring break. This means that when many of my student affairs colleagues are enjoying some downtime, I’m deep in the throes of a number of projects. Try adjusting to that after 15+ years on a student affairs schedule!

But this also begs the question why we only think of our websites when the students are gone. As I’m sure I’ve argued before, we need to make websites more of a priority in our offices and make sure they are up-to-date and well-maintained. This is often the front door to our office as far as students are concerned (not to mention other staff, faculty and parents). We should take the same care with our websites that we do in making sure our front desks are staffed with trained individuals and kept neat and orderly.

As I have visited different universities, I have found that one of the main things we need to shift when we are strategizing about our websites and our social media for our offices is our overall approach. These can no longer be those things that we do as we have time. These need to be priorities, and they need to be addressed on a regular basis – whether the students are gone or not.

How often do you update your website? When is the last time you got a new look for your website or refreshed your content? I’m curious to hear how other institutions handle their web presence.

When Did August Get Here?

Follow Friday: Financial Empowerment

by Jess (Faulk) Samuels

This time of year I am always searching the web for the best deals, the best gifts, and the ideas on how to save money during a time when expenses can skyrocket.  Between that flight home, gifts for the family, and gift exchanges in the office, you can end up spending way more than you intended to.  As student affairs professionals, you are likely on a tight budget, paying down school loans while saving for your financial goals.  Today’s follow Friday highlight two sites, run by women, and for women to help you plan for the future, and save right now.

LearnVest, @LearnVest


This website was first brought to my attention when I met the founder, Alexa von Tobel,  at Internet Week New York.  I was inspired by her focus on educating women about money.  The free version of this site offers education bootcamps on everything from “living a debt free life” to “getting hitched.”  Also, like mint.com it allows for you to set up a budget and link bank accounts so you can plan better, for big life moments, or just making sure you have enough saved for all of the Hanukkah gifts you plan on buying.

Money Saving Mom @moneysavingmom


I stumbled upon this site when I was looking for online coupons.  This site is run by an awesome, authentic mom, Crystal Paine, who prides herself on saving money and offering tips for you to as well.  In her bio, she states, that her mission “is to challenge women to wisely steward their time and resources and live life on purpose.”  I was especially impressed by the organization, with drop down menus for coupons, store deals, and freebies.

I am a sucker when it comes to beautiful design, and easy to navigate layout –  which both of these sites do very well.  Do  you have favorite sites for money saving, money planning, and empowering us to know our finances?  Share them in the comments!


Follow Friday: Financial Empowerment

Making a Site Map for Your Website

by Kristen Abell

One of the things I do in my current role as a web coordinator at our university is information architecture. In layperson’s terms, this means I organize content for websites in a way that makes the website user-friendly. This also means I create site maps for the sites on which I’m working. Many of these sites have probably never had a site map created for them before. Others have had site maps at one time, but have stepped so far off the map, they don’t even look like the same site. It’s my job to whip them back into some semblance of an organized site before we go about designing them a new look and building the site out for them.

Why would you even want to create a site map in the first place? Well, what you may not realize as an administrator of a website (or even just a member of a department with a website) is that site content really fuels the user experience. Sure, look and branding is important, but even that is driven by the content. And if your content sucks or is poorly organized, no one is going to want to return to your site. Think about those sites you’ve visited that take forever for you to find the one thing for which you’re looking, or within which you get so lost you can’t find your way out. Those sites probably didn’t have good site maps.

The key to building a good site map is primarily being able to put your content into buckets. Try to organize your content into as few buckets as possible, while still making sure that the buckets make sense and aren’t too vague. Yes, there’s a bit of an art to it, but with practice it is one you can master. Think about how your navigation is going to look and feel – will a user have to scan through tons of navigation items to find the one thing they want? Or are the buckets so very broad that their particular topic could be in any one of several different navigation items? And remember, not every single thing about your department must be on your website – a website should work with the face-to-face and print aspects of your office to provide an overall message to your students or customers.

After you start organizing your content, it can be helpful to see a visual map. Site Map

There are plenty of tools online that will help you create a visual site map, but one of the easiest tools I’ve found to use is actually Power Point (yes, there is actually a use for Power Point in today’s world!). Check out the “hierarchy” tab under “smart art,” and you can easily create a site map complete with pages and connections. In the site map above, there are actually two external pages/sites that will be linked to from the main page, and then there are seven main pages off the home page. Depending on how large your site is, you may be able to organize the site with just one site map, or you may need to use multiple maps to fully encompass the site.

Even if you are not currently undergoing a website revision, I can’t recommend creating a site map for your website enough – both for you and for colleagues in your department now or in the future. This can also help your site from growing into a monster site at some point (you know the ones – someone figured out how to add web pages, and they never looked back). By sticking to the core buckets, your department can continue to build onto your site in a way that is user-friendly and maintains the vision of your department.

Does your department currently have a site map? Do you have other tools you recommend for building a visual display?

Making a Site Map for Your Website