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Information Architecture / Navigation

Finding 10: Participants stated that the Web site "needed a home button."

Participants uniformly commented that the mechanisms provided to return users to the WAI homepage "were inconsistently named," "didn't really do the job," and were very hard to find.

Finding 11: Participants' navigation through the Web site involved significant use of the browser's "Back" button.

We observed that participants' primary means of navigation through the Web site involved significant use of the browser "Back" button. From our professional experience as usability and human factors specialists, observing hundreds of Web site evaluations annually, we've come to recognize that an over-dependence upon the browser Back button can indicate that a Web site's navigational mechanisms and information architecture are not adequately supporting users' ability to recognize their position within a Web site, to understand the informational groupings employed by the Web site, or to move purposefully through the Web site. Based on our observations of the WAI Web site usability test participants, we suggest that this may be the case with the WAI Web site.

Participants stated that using the back button was "effective" but not preferred. We observed participants struggling to determine which of the various navigation mechanisms the WAI Web site provided was the "main navigation."

Finding 12: Participants mistook jump-links for breadcrumbs

Participants evidenced a strong tendency, particularly on the WAI homepage to misinterpret the anchor-links at the top of the page as "breadcrumbs" (a breakdown of the "trail" Web site users followed into a given section). They stated that this was "very confusing, because [on the homepage] I haven't explored the Web site yet."

Finding 13: Participants thought the homepage Resources list was the main menu

When participants explored the WAI homepage initially, they identified the Resource links (located along the right-hand side of the page) as the Web site's "primary navigation." Participants stated that this was a positive feature of the Web site, because this menu "contained everything I come to the Web site to find out." During discussions of the difficulties they encountered locating specific coding information (techniques), participants reasserted that the "main menu" had the information they were looking for, but that it "didn't provide the content" after they followed a given link.

Finding 14: The WAI Web site primary navigation was "invisible" to participants.

The WAI Web site's primary navigation was largely invisible to the participants. Based on our observations, contributing factors to this may be the menu's location at the extreme top right of the WAI Web pages, an ongoing confusion with the Resources section (discussed in the previous Finding), and nomenclature inconsistencies (link names vary from page to page, and some links disappear altogether). Participants stated that they expected a single, unified, easy to read and locate menu to support their Web site navigation.

The participant who was blind never noticed the main navigation menu (containing "WAI Resources," "About WAI," "WAI Site Map," and "W3C Search"), perhaps due to its physical position on the WAI web pages in the top-right-hand corner. To this participant, the primary navigation menu was effectively invisible. She used JAWS with great proficiency, but this menu went unnoticed.

Finding 15: Participants expected to click on an item in the Resources menu and be taken to specific information, not an annotated listing.

Participants were largely pleased with the Resources menu on the WAI homepage. However, when they selected a resource link, they stated that they were surprised to find "an annotated list of the same things." They reported that the second Resources page was "redundant' and "unnecessary." They did however, appreciate the annotations describing the content that a given link would lead to, stating that the annotations exemplified summary techniques that they would want to see used throughout the Web site. Participants suggested combining the annotations with the resource list on the WAI homepage in order to simplify their ability to locate a resource quickly.

Finding 16: Participants uniformly expected the WAI Web site to include a search engine that would search only WAI content.

Due in part to the tremendous amount of information that participants encountered on the WAI Web site, they made suggestions for WAI to "add a search engine." They reported that they were "highly likely" to use a search engine as their primary means of locating information on the WAI Web site. A few participants overlooked the current search capabilities completely, while others struggled unsuccessfully to use them.

In response to the search capabilities present on the WAI Web site, the fact that the search engine did not limit its search only to the WAI site had a significant impact on its use. Participants were unable to distinguish from the search results whether or not the resources they were seeing were on the WAI site, the W3C site, or an archive of listserv posts. Their initial expectations were that the search engine would target only the WAI site, but stated that the search engine name "W3C Search" caused confusion because it seemed to indicate to them that the scope of the search engine was broader. However, because the search engine did not fully support that supposition, participants remained hopeful that the search would only encompass information about accessibility.

It is highly likely that Web site users will turn to the search engine to support their initial means of navigation through the Web site. In the words of one participant, "I have a very specific question, like 'online forms' and that works well with search engines."

Once participants began moving through the results of a given search, we observed frustration and confusion as they attempted to interpret the search results, to orient themselves within the WAI Web site, and to locate information that would help them accomplish the tasks we had assigned. Not one participant was able to successfully use the search engine to complete a task.

Finding 17: Participants were unable to distinguish WAI content from W3C content

The WAI Web site's visual design, structural layout, and lack of clear signposting made it extremely difficult for participants to tell when they had navigated off the WAI Web site and onto W3C pages. Participants frequently mistook W3C content for WAI content and expressed confusion as to its relevance on "the WAI site." The sheer volume of text on the individual WAI pages may have contributed to participants' inability to identify which set of pages (and in some cases which specific page) they were navigating through. Participants stated that the content "overload" made them less likely to read page signposts carefully and that "it all looks the same."

Finding 18: Participants stated that the WAI Web site was full of "redundant" elements

We observed an interesting phenomenon when participants attempted to find information located within the "About" section of the Web site. Initially, participants moved quickly to the WAI homepage, and clicked on the "About" link found at the top of that page. They were taken to an anchor link on the bottom of that same page. (Roughly half of the participants expressed minor confusion, stating that they expected to be taken to another Web page, not to a different place on the same page.) Next, they spotted the "About WAI" link and clicked on it. In response, they were taken to an "About WAI" page that housed the information they were seeking. Participants described this process as "circuitous" and "needlessly complex." They felt that this navigation was indicative of the Web site's overall navigation where, in the words of a participant, "you have to click the same thing three or four times to get the information they could have given you with one click."

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