10 Commandments of Usability

The 10 Commandments of Good Website Usability, Jacob Nielsen’s “10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design,” are not actually commandments at all, but rather heuristics, or a kind of exploratory underlayment for creating guidelines for usable design.

Commandments or not, ignoring these principles should only be done purposefully, not out of ignorance. Everyone who designs information packages that might find their way onto the web (What information packages won’t find their way onto the web?) should know these usability principles and apply them as needed in their designs. You need to have good reasons not to follow established design principles for usability—and you must be objective, not subjective, in your approach. Don’t just say, “I don’t need that. I know what I want.” Too often those who create websites or write content for them don’t know good principles for user-centered design. I am beginning a new blog series to help us flesh out how these specific principles; the 10 Commandments of Usability will help us form a solid foundation for creating good user-centered communication.

The audience or user is the center of what goes on in any communication, because

to communicate is to transmit information, thought, or feeling so that it is satisfactorily received or understood.”

When you communicate, you impart information to someone; you share that discreet unit of information—from you to other—so that you can have commonality with whoever receives it.

Once received, the ideas about the communicated information may change from the intended purpose of the sender, for example, the person receiving the communication may accept the information as factual or reject it as false; may be enraged or impassioned by it; may be swayed to act or discouraged from acting; may seek for more information or be satisfied with what they already know. Communication is a much more difficult and troublesome event than simply posting, saying, or writing something. Communication is not information upload.


Communication is not mechanical upload.

The mechanical approach (input > output) to communication has been all too common, however, and there are no signs that this is really changing, despite the availability of online information.  True, businesses and other entities, including individuals, increasingly are concerned with users and audience; we should be glad about that. Information about how to do a better job of designing for users is so much more accessible these days. For example, Nielsen’s Heuristics are easily found in multiple places online and, in fact, you can sign up to receive regular academically researched articles and updates from the Nielsen–Norman Group to improve your familiarity with usability principles. I would encourage you to do so.

The chance to become a better communicator on every level, including writing and designing for the web, is made much more accessible because of the Internet, everyone knows that. However, the broadening of the accessibility has also made the availability of web creating tools more pervasive and so has spread bad design and insensitivity to audience farther and wider than ever before.

How can these 10 “not-commanded” Commandments of Usability be useful to us generally in our day-to-day communication acts?

Can those people that find themselves creating content—whether on the web or anywhere else—find any principles that bring value to us when we create our designs? Over the next few weeks, this series  will discuss how to better apply these 10 principles to our communication events and artifacts.



“Communicate.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 28 May 2016.

“Abbott & Costello Who’s On First.” YouTube. Koch Entertainment, n.d. Web. 28 May 2016. <https://youtu.be/kTcRRaXV-fg&gt;.

Mind reading machine. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web.


Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” (08:03)


Scenario 1:

See yourself entering a gallery, walking down a long empty hallway, surrounded by white walls, white floors, white ceilings, rooms illuminated by bright but diffused lighting, whiteness radiating throughout. You see ahead of you a wall that features one painting, hung two-thirds of the way up the wall, in a plain white frame, highlighted by a backlight, which seems to produce a halo around the whole representation. On the painting is a small, barefooted child—a little Asian girl, loosely holding a toy animal by its ear; from the child’s eyes falls one tear.

Scenario 2:

Next, see yourself entering another gallery, the walls are steel gray, the floor, cement. The walls above hold industrial lighting suspended from exposed steel crossbeams. You begin to encounter various bits of rubble—some broken concrete, bits of trash, ash, rebar—and pits dug unevenly in the floor; everything seems broken, disrupted. You enter a room with large black and white images of destroyed buildings one-after-another, on easels, hung randomly at angles, hung on the walls, hung on the ceilings. You smell an ashy heat. You hear the blare of sirens. Then, after seeing a large map of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japanese, you see, displayed on an easel, the same painting of the Asian child.


What did the painting mean? What did it signify? Did its meaning change from Scenario 1 to Scenario 2? But it was the same picture, in the same frame! How could its meaning change? In each of these scenarios, the difference between the interpretations of the painting’s meaning or significance is in its “Framing”—the framing, not the frame. From this example, you can see how the sequence and experience of events and the proximity to accompanying surroundings will color the interpretation of meaning, because the set-up for the encounter has changed and so has the resulting impact on its significance.

Framing can have a powerful, although not necessarily recognized, influence on the way that we interpret meaning as we navigate our daily lives. This rhetorical principle is around us every day and yet the effect that framing has upon our interpretation of meaning is rarely noticed by most people.

Framing, in a rhetorical sense, is the physical (or other) properties that surround an entity or artifact, which change or influence the meaning or signification of the entities in locational or other correspondence with each other. In other words, the things next to each other affect what the things seem to mean to the audience. “Framing is” according to Jim A. Kuypers in Rhetorical Criticism: Perspectives in Action (182) “the process whereby communicators act—consciously or not—to construct a particular point of view that encourages the facts of a given situation to be viewed in a particular manner, with some facts made more or less noticeable (even ignored) than others. When highlighting some aspect of reality over other aspects, frames act to define problems, diagnose causes, make moral judgements, and suggest remedies. They are located in the communicator, the text, the receiver, and the culture at large.” The frame sets up influences through which meaning is affected by means of the transference of “interpretive cues” from one element to another in its proximity.


Transference of feeling through circumstance or environment happens all the time, both intentionally and unintentionally. Who has not walked outside the door of work and let the type of day—sunny, rainy, cold, hot—influence the way that you feel on your drive home? Emotions about what we see or hear very frequently influence us in subtle or obvious ways, as they are seemingly transferred to us through the circumstances and surroundings that occur around us. But other things can transfer also. Along with a transference of feeling, a corresponding transference of meaning can also occur; such transference might also be subtle or more obvious. In the sunshine example, however, a person generally does not also start thinking that the actual meaning or significance of the day has been changed to reflect the positive feelings of happiness that the sunshine brings, such as “Oh, it is sunny! This must actually mean that today is my day to find a pot of gold!” Such a transference of meaning or significance accompanied with sincere acceptance or belief without any logical or reasonable bases for it would be called wishful thinking at best or even might indicate mental instability, if the changes of significance were made part of the person’s conscious or subconscious mental makeup. However, in addition to being influenced emotionally by the things they see and hear, people often let a more subtle kind of transference of meaning through framing influence their assignment of significance to artifacts and happenstances because of the arrangement of or proximity to other artifacts and happenstances.


Take, for example, a news article about any topic. Depending on the articles before it or after it, or the headlines, pictures, or captions accompanying it, you might believe or understand the article itself framed in a way that does not represent the context of the events, details, narratives, or opinions expressed in the article. The framing might actually lead you to understand a meaning for the article completely opposite of the one from which the author intended in the article. Imagine an article written to honor the career of a particular politician or public figure, but with nearby articles that discuss controversial events that took place under that person’s leadership, framing the original article in a way that undermines the ideas within. Without stating it overtly, you can introduce ideas through framing that are subliminal or subconscious, yet powerful rhetorically. The same can easily be true for articles or “content chunks” found on the Internet or items watched on the television news. In these cases, a visual proximity between entities influences the significance of what the reader finds in the article.


Additionally, is there a particular happening, such as an election, speech, national celebration or holiday, or other such event coming up? Advertisers or other “persuaders”  could use anything in the national or cultural consciousness as a frame for crafting subtle influences to their messages, for example, by using public attention to a coming national event to influence our reaction to some other event, artifact, or idea. A perfect example of this might happen if you frame the promotion of a work-out gym during the media buzz of the Olympic Games: people will be thinking about getting fit already, so they will already have an internal, background noise about the value of getting in shape that will be brought into the idea of joining the gym. Another example might be selling boats or luxury vehicles during the time when the stock market is going up or when the end-of-the-month job growth stats are positive. The general consciousness of what is going on—the social or political milieu—influences people’s choices about and beliefs in the significance of any artifact of communication, because what people believe and how they act are easily influenced by what “frames” their experienced circumstances and what they see and hear and read. This is another way to perceive a framing influence.


The possibilities for seeing this kind of influence are endless, actually, once you start looking for it. Ideas, actions, and beliefs can be influenced by placing communicative artifacts in proximity to surrounding referents or within contexts crafted from either our day-to-day lives or other sources, such as those carrying historical or political connotations. This process is a common, fairly simple, but easily overlooked, concept. But, just pick up a newspaper or watch a nightly news broadcast. Look in the grocery store magazine rack or for that matter, the aisles at the store, themselves. Framing works there too. Influence carries over from one proximity to another, and we often let the meaning of one thing impact the next.


In the hand of a marketer, rhetorician, or any person wishing to use persuasion, the tool of framing is powerful.


Going back to our painting again, one can imagine the process of choosing the frame for the painting. One might look through the colors on the canvas and choose one or more that “bring out” something in the image, to color coordinate things so that it will match the surroundings in an eye-pleasing way. People often do something like this when they are trying to pick a good tie: “Wow! Sir, Try this tie! The yellow in the shirt really makes this tie pop!” So, you pick a good tie based on coordinating the color scheme. Similarly,  using a story to “pull” something out and “feature” that element through framing might be useful, but also might be manipulative and even abusive. Can you see how that might work? For example, I may have a story about veterans’ rates of depression or suicide. I could present the story as “straight” as I could, in other words, as close to the narrative of the author’s intention or context, or if I want to let the story illustrate something particular, I could pull certain quotes out of the story or find an illustrating picture and caption it in such a way that would make the story serve my purpose, whatever that may be. I have then framed that story to accomplish a rhetorical (persuasive) purpose, rather than an informative one, no matter what the original intention was in the author’s mind.


To a rhetorician, it would be impossible to separate out the fact that every act is a rhetorical one. And, it is true: Every word is spoken to persuade someone of something—why say anything ever if you don’t want to persuade someone of something? Additionally, authorial intention is neither a static concept nor is such understanding as easily attained as might be supposed. However, most people let this entire level of communication and comprehension slip past them without notice. When they do, however, they actually are giving up a portion of their right to weigh things rationally, rather than to just absorb the ideas of the people that are trying to slip something past in the stream of unseen and unexamined influence.


Kuypers, Jim A. Rhetorical Criticism: Perspectives in Action. Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2009. Google Books. Web.

Munroe, Randall. “Xkcd: Board Game.” Xkcd: Board Game. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2016. http://xkcd.com/1566/.



Verify Your Posts on Social Media


My personal Facebook (FB) page, contains a beloved and steady mix of photos, cat videos, lexical jokes (my friends are also word geeks, what a surprise!), music recommendations, and vacation pictures to drool over, as well as religious, health-related, or political discussions that provide a wide range of proof of accuracy or validity. This particularly steady stream of political, religious, or news-oriented comments ranges from the far-right to the far-left and generally consists of shares or copy-and-pastes from the FB feeds of non-friends, friends of friends, or from questionable blogs.


Most of us tolerate this steady steam of commentary and ignore it; some of us, at times, try to push against the ideas with which we disagree. Sometimes, we get caught up in an argument with someone and each person brings out their own set of quotations or citations to support a “side,” usually bringing in the support from unreferenced sources. Mostly, we wish our friends would sort the information grain from the hearsay chaff before they post or share.


Frequently, when one follows through the poster’s share to find the original sources for the claims or in order to determine the statements’ accuracy, one finds that somewhere down the line, misinformation has been quoted, the information is out of date, or has been deliberately taken out of context. Such shared posts are often full of inaccurate information. Yet the fact that one’s own friend has posted it on one’s own feed tends to give the post the weight of their approval, which in the same way, puts one’s own integrity on the line with sharing it to someone else. This is doubly why one shouldn’t just share without verifying the facts as much as possible.

This is true not only of “political” shares but also very frequently is also true about shares that relate to science, experiential, or medical “facts,” such as claims for health cures (“Drs recommend you never eat sugar….”) or environmental issues (“Something-or-other is poisonous because of such-and-such….”) or experiences (“I was kidnapped by aliens and taken to….”). There are some claims that are proven true and worth sharing—don’t get me wrong. However, not all claims are created equally. The person who posts must at least try to verify the things posted or shared before posting or sharing them. Google the key words, check it out on Snopes.com, or follow the trail of blogs that quote that resource. Usually, it takes less than one minute to find out that something is questionable or already proven to be false.

Доверяй, но проверяй—“Trust, but verify,” as the Russian translates into English—an old Russian saying that became well known in the western world when Reagan used it in talks about Soviet nuclear disarmament to say that the verifiability of the procedures should justify the level of trust bestowed in the process. Don’t blindly trust, but check that your trust is merited by the facts. To take it a step farther, only believe and share what you know to be true, as verified to the best of your ability; don’t blindly repost what people say because the name of a famous person is attached to the post or image, or because it tickles your ear and you wish it were true, or that you are “friends” with the poster.


Your respect for your friends does not stretch to the point where you must accept as accurate those things that are not accurate. When your friends don’t bother to check on the things that they share with you, why should you, like a robot, do the same and share untrue things with your friends, risking your own reputation?


Don’t squander good will by posting things that you have not bothered to vet for accuracy, because your reputation for truth suffers when you do not at least try to verify the share. Everyone makes mistakes in this, but some people don’t even try to not make mistakes.

Don’t be one of those people who just shares without fact-checking, because your integrity is at stake: you want people to believe what you say and take seriously what you believe.

See posts on my blog, susanwlavelle.com for more on this topic:



How often have you read or seen something and then wondered, “For whom was this written? To whom were they speaking?” All too frequently, speakers and writers speak and write to themselves or to people just like themselves, rather than to the actual audience that will hear or read their words. Case in point: Have you ever listened to a public discourse or sat in an introductory-level class, where the speaker assumes that the audience possesses a base knowledge of the topic that is inappropriate for the venue, by using insider’s vocabulary that is incomprehensible to newcomers to the topic? Most of us have experienced this. Such instances are examples of unclear communication because the words were not aimed at the actual listeners or readers, but rather, primarily, aimed at impressing the speakers’ or authors’ peers with their own intelligence. Have you ever seen a sleekly designed website or other product that you can’t actually figure out how to use? Again, such creations were not designed for the user of the product, but rather, to impress other designers. The obvious—but not always recognized—issue is that if an audience can’t understand the discourse or the user can’t use the product, then the process of composing or designing has failed its primary mission: to reach its audience.

An audience receives what it is actually presented with, not what the mind of the creator thinks it has presented; if the audience can’t understand or misunderstands the written or spoken text, then the impression left on them will be outside the intended meaning of the discourse.

Therefore, to communicate, an author or speaker must take the actual audience into consideration right from the start when composing a message. To do so, the author must understand the audience—both the primary and the secondary audience that will potentially receive that message. Such things as sentence complexity, the use of metaphor and figures of speech, first or third person, personal or impersonal tone and voice, word choice, directness and familiarity, formality, and other factors need to be consistent and intentionally used, rather than randomly applied, in order to communicate effectively. Furthermore, all of these elements need to be geared toward the actual audience that will be receiving the discourse, if misunderstanding is to be avoided and intended meaning is to be communicated.

The primary audience is the target audience, the one that writers or speakers intend to reach with their discourse; the communicative needs of that primary audience must be clearly understood by the speaker or writer before they speak or write. Identifying who that audience might be would be the first step to understanding how to reach them and this might be accomplished by things like brainstorming ideas of who you think you want to reach and bouncing those ideas off of others with similar focus to yours. Additionally useful would be some basic demographic research to further identify the general characteristics of those people whom you identify. Learning the actual needs and wants of those you identify would be the second step, something that only research—asking questions, conducting surveys—will actually find out.

Don’t assume that you know what people think, because such assumptions will undoubtedly result in a skewed idea of your audience that will more than likely represent stereotypes, rather than actual people. Targeting stereotypes for your audience is something that will be noticed by the readers and listeners and will more than likely alienate them and backfire on your intended purposes.

Another important consideration—especially in this day of digital text—is that in addition to your primary audience, you have a secondary audience. By trying to imagine how the text or discourse you are composing will be shared to others, you can attempt to take that secondary audience into account. For example, is your blog geared to teachers? If so, then your blog message might be seen by students, parents, or your principal or the school board members that have hiring and firing power over you. Thinking in advance about where your discourse might be shared is only common sense, but how often do people fail to account for it? Although impossible to take every possibility into account, by trying to imagine potential ways that your discourse might be disbursed on media other than the original platform, you can anticipate an additional audience and take that information into consideration in further selecting an appropriate style and tone for what you publish or present.

Planning with audience awareness in mind is all about how to make a connection and how you, as an author or speaker, can be understood clearly and unambiguously by the audience that is on the receiving end of your communication event.

content.php.gifPiraro, Daniel. “Bizarro Comic Strip for February 01, 2016.” Comics Kingdom. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Feb. 2016. <http://comicskingdom.com/bizarro/2016-02-01&gt;.


Google Image Search

So just how does a person find the original source for an image on the Internet?

Images so often float around online, so how can a person get down to the real facts behind an image? One way is to conduct a Google Image Search.

Google image search Screenshot 2016-02-20 18.01.47

Here is the Google Image Search box. Click the image to try it yourself.

With a Google Image Search, you can upload an image or enter the image’s URL (the web address) into a Google search box and Google will open a page that shows various matches to the image. From there, you can look through the search results and often you can find out who is the creator of the image or the source of its original publication or appearance, along with a variety of places in which the image has since appeared (like various blogs or websites). Oftentimes, you will see versions of the image in different resolutions or from different aspects. This is one great way to test if your image really is what you think it is, since often, through a Google Image Search, you can find versions of the image in which it has been slightly (or greatly) manipulated by an image editor like Photoshop. Another plus for using Google Image Search, is that it helps you as the poster to be a good Internet citizen by your finding and giving credit to the artist or creator of the image for their work and to supply your audience with a link to the original publication or the artist/creator’s website. 

Using Google image search is not the only way that you can learn the provenance of an image, but it is a great place to start and is easy and free to all. There isn’t really an excuse not to search out the origin of the images that are being used.

After all, knowing as much as you can about the images that you post on Facebook or any social media, should be a no-brainer, because if you post something that is inaccurate, especially if it is obviously fraudulent or manipulated, it doesn’t reflect well on you and is not going to accomplish the rhetorical purpose that you have intended by your post.

To use Google Image search, just open a Google search page and enter “Google Images,” then click. Here is the link for more information on using Google Image search:


The value of holding a consistent image and visual approach should be universally recognized, because it helps the user/audience you are trying to reach see your service as an organized system.

For example, if you need to label some doors at your business site or make signs for your location, don’t just go down to the hardware store and buy the first set of stick-on letters that you see, as I have seen done before, even by very large organizations, but put some thought into it with information design and branding in mind.

This is a great article and I wanted to share it for anyone wondering about why it would be important to create a consistent brand for their business or organization. Although the immediate focus is on user oriented projects, the ideas are useful to anyone wanting to learn more about branding.

“What is branding?”

Interaction Design.org

When you were at school, in all likelihood your mum/mom/mother (delete as necessary) probably stitched your name into all parts of your uniform and gym items. While the labels were probably itchy and annoying, they helped you keep track of your stuff by distinguishing them from everybody else’s clothes. Personalizing your things in this way, allowed you to say, definitively, that something was yours (unless your name is John Smith).

Branding works in much the same way. Companies and businesses attach names, logos, slogans, and specific design elements to their products to distinguish them from their competitors. However, while your school shirt, trousers, etc. simply had your name in them, company branding is focused on attaching or associating positive attributes to their products.”

Branding: Making Positive Associations

“We already make associations between certain words, colors, people, objects, styles, design features, and meaningful qualities, such as likeability, friendliness, sexiness, and wealth. Branding attempts to ensure the package they are offering or purporting to offer, bears positive qualities, rather than negative ones.

The brand of a company or specific product is essentially the idea or image they are trying to project, so consumers connect or identify with the whole group or one product in particular. Branding is meant to help make products instantly recognisable to consumers, and to ensure they help to maintain a positive image or reputation. It is for this reason that celebrity endorsers are dropped like a lead weight, if any indiscretion becomes public knowledge, Brands lose their meaning if the products become associated with people who are appearing in the news for negative reasons.”

Read more of the article here:


brands-of-us from Mental Floss article

Brands of the US map Credit: Steve-Lovelace.com

Documentation Management

“Documentation management is the bane of many a project manager’s existence. Yet, without a clear and simple documentation management system projects often go astray. Your team members need to be able to find their documentation when they need it. If they can’t; they’ll go and do other things instead–or waste hours of time trying to find it. Neither of these things is good for the health of your User interaction (UX) project. So let’s look at some simple tips for better document management on UX projects:” For more of the article, click here.

Dilbert Naming Conventions