Web Interface Critique: WDVL.com

A Usability Evaluation by Zach Tomaszewski

for LIS 677, Spring 2001, taught by Dr. Diane Nahl

Table of Contents


Though web usability is a relatively new field, there are already a number of common criteria used in judging a web site's usability. The following list of criteria is one of my own devising. The evaluated aspects were chosen based quite heavily on Jakob Nielsen's book, Designing Web Usability.[1] CNET's Builder.com was also consulted. [2]

The criteria were then applied to a website: the Web Developers Virtual Library at WDVL.com. It is a casual site aimed at web developers. It has a large collection of web-oriented resources, articles, tutorials, and software reviews. I enjoy the content and find the site relatively easy to use.

Usability Criteria

For each of the following criteria, a website should be ranked on a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being the best or highest score. A few example responses are given for each scale in order to provide basic guidance. When evaluating webpages of particularly horrible or even health-endangering usability, 0s are an option. Theoretically, 6s might also be possible, though very unlikely.

The score and comments in the tan boxes are my evaluation of how WDVL.com measures up.


Site Identity

Is there a site identity such that a user will notice when they leave the site?

5 Site has a very consistent, noticeable theme.
3 Parts of the site are rather consistent.
1 Are these pages really all the same site?

One of most consistent sites I've ever seen. The right nav bar is always there, the same top graphics, the same colors, the same fonts.

Frame Use

How does the site use frames? Normally frames detract from usability, though in very rare cases they may be aides.

5 Pages do not use frames or use frames to actually improve usability.
4 Pages use frames well--does not detract from usability.
3 The frames are okay.
1 This page is a nightmare.

No frames used.

Layout & Page Design

Screen Real Estate

How much space is used for content? Most of the page space should be dedicated to the content. How much space is given to navigation, site graphics, or advertising? Is there anything that takes up more space than its usefulness warrants?

5 80% or more of the screen real estate is dedicated to content.
4 70%
3 60%
2 40%
1 20%
0 There is no content here. It's just a page of banner ads!

The main page isn't bad, but other pages are pretty poor, especially the huge yellow area at the top of every page. With long articles, this is less of a concern (ie, the percentage of space lost goes down). They could remove the side navigation bar within articles, but I think would negatively impact site image and consistency.


Is the page easily scanable for information pertinent to the user?

5 My eye was drawn to exactly what I was looking for.
3 I eventually found what I was looking for within the page.
1 I got a migraine from looking at this page.

The organization of the main screen, topic navigation screens, and the nav bar is very good, thanks to a large font size and different text colors. The type can be a little large at times, but for amount of info per screen, good job.

Home Page Orientation

Is the main screen helpful and orienting? Does it give an impression of what the site contains and how to find it?

5 The main page summed up the whole site, entertained me, and gave me warm fuzzies besides.
1 The main page was no help at all.

The main page includes a smattering of the latest articles, nav bars -- both down the side and along the top -- and other interfaces (beginner or intermediate) to go to. Not a site map, but a good mix over all.


Is the page easily read? It should include:

5 I practically had only to sit in front of the screen to absorb the information.
4 Pages are easy to read.
3 There was no struggling or eyestrain involved with reading these pages.
1 I had to cut and paste the text into a text editor to find out what it said.

Uses a standard sans-serif font, slightly off-white background (a good thing), some margins. Easy to read online.

Use of Graphics and Multimedia

Small graphics

Are graphics small and repeated wherever possible?

5 Yes. There are hardly any graphics except for essential, repeated icons.
1 No. There is an excessive number of bloated graphics, many larger than my screen.
0 They're using full-screen bitmaps (.bmp)!

Good job here. Header graphic used consistently; one or two other small images used repeatedly.

Limited Graphics

Are graphics used where color and text would have sufficed? This is most common on navigation bars.

5 No extraneous graphics; page is all text.
1 Every thing on the page is an image!

Good job. Could have had only a text header (but I like the graphic).

Multimedia Controls

Is multimedia (video, animation, sound) forced on the user or are there accessible controls? Are there any distracting animations that cannot be turned off?

5 All multimedia was well labeled and I could choose to view only what I was ready and capable (bandwidth, screen resolution, etc.) to see.
1 A loud annoying MIDI file started playing when I entered the site and I couldn't turn it off!

No site multimedia. Some irritating banner ads, but placed at a spot that could easily be scrolled off the screen.


Standard Colors and Underlining

Are links standard colors? If not, are they at least consistent, with both visited and non-visited colors? Has the underlining been left intact?

5 standard colors (unvisited = blue, visited = purple, active = red)
4 close to standard colors
3 non-standard yet consistent colors
2 inconsistent coloring
1 I couldn't tell what was a link, where I'd been, or where I could go
0 there were no links! This isn't a part of the WWW at all.
Note: Subtract a point if link underlining has been disabled.

Consistent non-standard colors and no underlining. Good placement most of the time though, so it's not as bad as this 2 seems. (see "Link Placement" below)

Link Descriptiveness

Are the links descriptive and predictable, including title attributes if necessary? Are there warnings if a link is a download or a format other than HTML?

5 I knew exactly what I was getting into with nearly every click
1 Every link was labeled only as "Click here" and the task bar was disabled with some sort of
JavaScript so I couldn't even see the destination URL.
0 The links actually lied to me! I don't know how I got to this porn site!

The link descriptions (ie, article summaries) on the topic pages are superb! My only complaint is I would have liked to see some link titles on the many acronyms on the standard right nav bar.

Link Placement

Are links, especially navigation links, easily found and not embedded in text blocks?

5 Links are easy to immediately locate.
3 Links are not all in text blocks, but are still hard to differentiate from other text.
2 Links are buried in text.
1 Links are buried in text when they need not be; most are hard to find because they are not colored or underlined appropriately.

Links to further references are at the ends of articles . Nav bar and article titles in topic summaries imply links, though the links are not a standard color or underlined. Though there is no underlining, most links are either bright red, in a single column, or in a standard location.

New Windows

Do links open new windows? If so, do they at least warn the user before hand?

5 Links opened no new windows.
3 Links opened new windows, but I knew they were coming.
2 The site used frames and I could rarely predict which frame the new page would appear in.
1 All links opened new windows.

Links do not open new windows.


Consistent Navigation

Is the navigation consistent? Is it in an easy-to-find location?

5 I always knew where to look for navigation.
3 After a bit of looking, I could usually find where I could go from here.
1 I could not navigate this site.

That right nav bar is a big help here. Also, links are very consistent between article pages.

Navigation Hierarchy

Is there an identifiable clustering or hierarchy in the navigation?

5 Navigation was very logical; category labels were very intuitive.
3 Navigation consisted of links within the context of related text.
2 Navigation was just a bunch of links in one area of the page with no rhyme or reason to them.
1 Navigation was just a bunch of links scattered all over the page with no context.

Good hierarchical clustering.

Search Option

Is there a site search option?

5 Yes, and it works beautifully
3 Yes
1 No

An average search facility. Depending on which page you search from, you get a different site identity for the search results, which is disorientating.

Cross Platform

Screen Resolution

Will pages display at different screen resolutions and screen sizes?

5 Pages look good at any resolution.
3 I could still read the pages at 640x480 by scrolling sideways.
1 Pages break and becomes unreadable if I change the resolution.

Some pages take up more than a screen width at anything below 1024x768. The saving grace is that usually it is only part of the right nav bar that can't be seen; the page is still readable for most purposes.

Color Depth

How does the site look at different color depth settings?

5 Uses only the 216 browser-safe colors, so looks the same at any color setting.
1 Very problematic at 256 colors.

Uses unsafe colors, but degrades decently. Still looks basically the same at 256 colors.


Are the pages printable?

5 Prints very nicely.
2 Half of the text was chopped off on one side of the paper.
1 I couldn't read the print out at all (this can happen if the text is white).

WDVL: - -
I don't have a printer

Backwards Compatible

Does site degrade gracefully in old or non-standard browsers, such as those with no style sheet or scripting support?

5 Looks great in Netscape 2.0 and Lynx.
4 Works fine in Netscape 3.0 and equivalent.
1 I can't see this in anything except the latest browser with at least three different plug-ins.
0 I can't see this page no matter what I do.

Looks clunky, but still very readable, even in Netscape 2.0.


Quality Information or Entertainment

Is there something worthwhile here? Why would users come here in the first place?

5 Wonderful, enlightening content.
3 I spent some time on the site and I don't feel any stupider.
1 This guy has a text description of his booger collection and pictures of his dog named Fish.
0 The content emotionally scarred me and I would have to undergo hypnosis to even recall the full experience.

The content is fantastic. It is leading reason why I have this site as my browser home page.

Spelling and Grammer

Are there any spelling or grammatical errors?

5 Didn't find a one.
4 Found or two mistakes.
3 I had to reread a couple sentences or puzzle over a few words.
1 I couldn't tell what the author was trying to say.
0 This site is apparently written in the author's private language.

Good editors!

Author Identification

Can you tell who the author or publisher of the site is?

5 I could tell who wrote this and find credentials for the author.
1 I have no idea where this content came from.

Every article has a link to a brief bio of the author and usually a link to their own website.

Non-Usability Issues


Does the site look good?

5 This site is a work of art!
3 Pretty standard-looking site.
1 This site made me gag.

I don't like the colors very much, especially the yellow with red text.


Does it feel polished and professional? Does it seem likely that a well established organization created this site?

5 This site is very polished and it seems that the authoring organization is established and upstanding.
1 I think a monkey wrote this site.

The site seems pretty casual.

User Satisfaction

Do you like the site?

5 I love this site with an unquenchable passion. I would write odes to this site if only I could tear myself away from it long enough to find a pencil.
4 I like it.
3 Yeah, it's alright. I guess.
2 This site sucks.
1 I loathe this site. I am prepared to take up arms against the creator of such a hideous monstrosity. Die, site, die!

I like it.

Overall Usability Impression

What is your general impression of this site's usability?

5 Very usable.
3 I can use it when I have to.
1 Not usable at all.
0 A danger to humanity.

It's consistent, has good content, decent navigation, and a number of different paths to information.

Calculated Estimate

What is the average of your usability ratings? This is a decent estimate of the site's overall usability. It is not very exact because each of the criteria above should probably not be equally weighted, as they are here.

WDVL: 4.3


I think I have followed a relatively standard usability criteria here. Yet still I notice that some criteria can be mutually exclusive. Underlining all links in a block of text can negatively impact readability. Including navigation on all pages to improve site image and navigation is likely to degrade the screen real estate ranking.

I'd also like to point out that usability, though currently a hot topic, is far from the only consideration in designing webpages. It has been shown [3] that, much more than with software, there is often a discrepancy between the success a user has with a site and their enjoyment in using it. Though this seems contradictory at first, it is possible to build a website that is easier to use--that increases user task success rates--and yet find that users still don't like to use it. Indeed, I think user satisfaction is more important than usability: it is what determines how much your site is used.

Part of this discrepancy may arise from the fact that not all sites are strictly informational. Some are good for casual browsing, not specific searching. Often web users are not looking for a specific item or fact, but hoping to learn about some general topic or to browse a certain store. (For example, about half of my reading at WDVL.com begins from a current article link on the home page; I may never use the right navigation bar once during a whole session.) There is an artistic, entertaining, serendipitous side to webpages. Yet usability is based on rigidly engineering a site for rapid navigation and accurate information retrieval.

Of course, as in all things, a balance is the best choice. Usability should be implemented as much as possible. (Though focusing only on high usability may not necessarily increase user satisfaction, low usability will likely decrease user satisfaction.) But it must be remembered that this can lead to designs that lower user satisfaction or enjoyment. This can be a sign that the designer has taken usability principles too far.


1.   Nielsen, Jakob. Designing web usability. Indianapolis, IN.: New Riders, 2000.

2.   "CNET Builder.com -- Web Graphics -- Critique of the Week." <http://builder.cnet.com/webbuilding/pages/ Graphics/Critique/index.html> Accessed: 06 March 2000.

3.   Spool, Jared M. et al. Web Site Usability : A Designer's Guide San Francisco : Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 1999.