/ Q.A.: Basic Journal-ism: Tips for Electronic Publishers

Opening Page

The original opening page of JEP attempted to combine the entry and core areas, doing justice to neither. Instead of grabbing the visitor's attention, that page was more likely to have the visitor pushing the "Back" button. Some of the problems:

  1. The gray background, full-width text and less-than-professional logo make the page look like something slapped together after a half hour of instruction in HTML and Photoshop.
  2. The full-width horizontal rules — speed bumps, I call them — disrupt the unity of the page.
  3. Aside from the recent blurb about JEP's quarterly publication schedule, there's no indication of what, if anything, is new.

The redesign effectively addresses these problems. The opening page, with its new logo, looks much cleaner and more professional. The white background and lack of speed bumps provide greater ease of reading. Perhaps most importantly, however, is the fact that the opening page clearly indicates what's new in JEP. A catchy headline and underline lead the visitor to the hyperlinked Table of Contents; the small box allows the inclusion of links to other features without cluttering things. (The standing heads for the boxed features are not the clearest, though; I had to check my dictionary to see what "Causerie" meant, and I'm not sure why this column is titled "Q.A.")

Despite these improvements, two other aspects of the opening page could still use work. First, a site search engine and a site map would allow visitors to get what they're after more quickly. Second, the opening page still does not fit on a standard PC screen. That may not seem like a big problem, but Jakob Nielsen, Sun Microsystems' chief Web usability expert, thinks it is. Usability studies conducted by his group show that that users don't like to scroll down to see parts of a Web page. Visitors are less reluctant to scroll when confronted with full pages of text, such as the actual articles in a journal, than when they're at the opening page.[5] Adding an entry area to JEP would help reduce the amount of material that needs to be on the opening page; using buttons instead of text for regular features also could help.