Over the past decade, there has been a paradigm shift in which companies are transferring much of their customer contact to Internet media such as the World Wide Web. Even for traditional companies, a combination of physical store and Internet presence has become essential. Consequently, companies are often compelled to generate, in brief periods, Web sites that offer information and/or commerce with a large quantity of content in order to have a competitive presence (Vora, 2000). The time constraint has prevented many companies from developing sites that effectively meet their customers' needs and expectations.
The Internet is expected to undergo an increase from 10 million sites in 1999 to 200 million sites in 2005 (Nielsen, 2000). Other figures point to an escalation in sales worldwide from $60 billion in 2000 to $428 billion in 2004 (Emarketer, 2001). However, some of these growth predictions have been reduced recently. Numerous factors, including privacy issues and poor business models, have been presented to account for the slowdown in Internet sales. However, one key reason for this revision is that many companies neglect to incorporate basic Web design principles into the design of their" E-commerce sites, leading to customer frustration with and abandonment of Web site use (Klein, 2001).
Interface design principles are key to the usability and consequent success of any Web site or software application (Dix, Finlay, Aboud, & Beale, 1998; Mayhew, 1992). Whether a site is focused on providing information or supporting commerce, there are many design principles that apply (Tilson, Dong, Martin, & Keike, 1998). Because companies and organizations are often under strict time constraints, it can be challenging to fully comply with all existing principles of Web design. This is especially true when satisfying a design principle involves a time-consuming process such as empirical user testing.
In order to allocate resources effectively during the design process, it is critical to have quantitative information indicating the specific usability benefits of incorporating each design principle. Designers need to know how each design principle affects user performance, satisfaction, and preference. Only then can companies make informed decisions about which methods are worth pursuing and be able to maximize the usability benefits from a limited allocation of resources.
Exponential decreases in the costs of communication bandwidth and data storage have led to a tremendous proliferation in the amount of information that companies can provide on their Web sites. Many companies have chosen to take advantage of this opportunity by maximizing the information available. This has increased the focus placed on the concept of organization (Rosenfeld & Morville, 1998). The organizational scheme of a site uses the shared characteristics of the content in order to group specific content units. It has become a challenging task to find ways to organize sites to facilitate user navigation and comprehension.
The organizational framework can have a critical effect on the ease of use of a Web site (Lee, 2000). It must be centered on the needs and tasks of the potential users (Nielsen, 2000). Because every Web site has a potentially different user population, with different goals, expertise, and expectations, organizational schemes need to be customized for the target user population (Nielsen, 1999). Unfortunately, many Web sites are organized according to the perspective of the organization or site designers, which often does not match that of the users. This often leads to poor usability and can cause users to spend unnecessary amounts of time and effort seeking the desired information (Kanerva, Keeker, Risden, Schuh, & Czerwinski, 1997; Rosenfeld, 2000). Often, the user-centered site organization will not match the company's internal structure (Nielsen, 2000). …