Website set-up

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This summarises the thinking and principles which we have used in putting this site together. We welcome suggestions.

Usable Buildings does not have a search facility, because most of our content is complex, pdf-based and password protected, and searching does not work very well with those constraints. However, it is possible to search within Google for unprotected pdf content.

The reasons why we protect material are often concerned with copyright restrictions and related requirements. For example, content providers may ask for password protection as a condition of giving us access to material. However, we also like to know who our visitors are and who is using the site, so we try and instigate non-intrusive dialogue with you where possible, and for this we need to know who you are!.

We aim at:

  • Users mainly from design practice and education, who may be interested in some of the finer details of building performance, some of them operating with basic equipment and slow lines.
  • Distinctive, simple presentation.
  • Commitment to the principles of usability.
  • Accessible and useful content, mainly in pdf format.
  • A maximum of two-hours a week to be spent on site maintenance, with regular updates.
  • Commitment to the spirit of open access.
  • Fast response both on-screen and in dealing with users.
  • Minimal use of gratuitous material, especially animated graphics or meaningless space-fillers, and, especially, advertisements. We allow the odd indulgence usually to break up text, but nothing that has severe speed penalties attached.
  • Some kind of relationship with our users. We like to know who is using the site, and try to develop some kind of dialogue.

We have a three-frame layout, with:

  • The menu always in the left-hand frame (once loaded this is always on screen so that the screen is not refreshing after every action). This also pre-loads other material required later to speed up display.
  • The central pane contains any of:
    • sub menus;
    • information describing what is/will be happening in the main (right-hand) pane;
    • contextual links formerly displayed in the main window which avoid the use of the "Back" button.
  • The main (right-hand) pane - the one you are reading now - has the primary content which can be any of:
    • links to pdf downloads;
    • supplementary information for each download;
    • other lists and links;
    • main graphics.
    • pdf content, if the user's browser has a pdf plug-in installed.
  • adjustable text and window sizes.

We use a lot of text, so we try to get the browsers to display consistently in large-ish and readable 11pt Arial.

We try to consistently help the user understand the consequences of their actions, so, for example, when you run the mouse over a menu item it will give you more information about what the item does so you have some idea of what happens next, and puts a tick next to it to show that it has been clicked. We also put details about next actions in the tooltips.

We also have tried to give understandable error messages, although they can flummox us as much as they can you!

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