Jennifer Fleming has created a lively and wide-ranging discussion of Web design practices for the turn of the century. This 250-page volume accepts the Web for what it is - a task-based mass medium reaching for its audience through the often clouded glass of the computer-based browser screen. Rather than fuss over the Web's elusive true form (publishing medium? hyper-animated poster? PC software platform? supermarket?), Fleming simply accepts the obvious: there are all sorts of sites out there. For Fleming, tellingly, the design challenge lies not with deciding the right sort of site, and certainly not with the look of your navigation buttons. Instead, the challenge lies with adapting sites to the increasingly well-documented struggles of their audience. Fleming's book starts with Web users, ends with Web users, and stays with them all the way through.
Jakob Nielsen, of course, has been gathering devotees to his cause of Web usability for several years. But Nielsen, rational as he always is, speaks from outside the designers' circle. Fleming, a practicing design consultant, takes the Nielsen ideas (and others) and turns them into a full-fledged design process, a toolbox for building sites.
Among the best of Fleming's tools is the "user profile", the half-imaginary story about a specific user arriving at a site with particular needs, desires and concerns. You can see this slice of the book excerpted at Web Review. The technique lets you think creatively about all the different frustrations of different user groups - problems with graphics, problems with information design, problems with underlying business processes.
Then there's Fleming's succinct yet detailed description of Digital Knowledge Assets' "ethnographic" methods - such as asking users for stories of satisfying Web experiences, and even giving them disposable cameras to photograph what happens to them as they work.
To her user profiling, ethnographics and the like, Fleming adds a rich mix of more traditional Web project techniques - scenario planning, brainstorming, conventional usability testing and the like, all well-described. And over the top she sprinkles wisdom from scores of sources - from vintage design sources such as Edward Tufte through so-cool designers like Clement Mok and Erik Spiekermann to obscure sources such as a 1996 volume arguing that people expect computer-based media to behave "politely". Parts of Web Navigation are respectful journalism, as Fleming effectively picks the brains of the Web business's best. These luminaries' views broaden her book handily into a catalogue of current Web best practice.