The Evolution of "Usable Speed and Navigation"

Peter J. Patsula's The Usableword Monitor, December 1, 2000

Web Usability and Information Design Issues:

Overview ~ Version 1 ~ Version 2 Version 3 ~ Version 4 
Version 5
~ Version 6  ~ Conclusion ~ References 

Summary evolved from a three-page website designed for students at Sookmyung Women's University in Seoul, Korea, to a highly interactive site with more than 50 pages to help ESL learners improve their English skills. The final version of this website was the result of survey feedback from students and colleagues as well as conclusions drawn from the web mining of site activity. Extensive feedback and data analysis support that the site features most important to the users were:

  • relevant content

  • speed of access

  • navigation ease

  • simplicity of design

Overview - Usability Report: The Evolution of

-top- evolved from a three-page website designed for students at Sookmyung Women's University (SMU) in Seoul, Korea 1, to a highly interactive site with more than 50 pages, designed to help ESL learners improve their English reading, writing, listening and speaking skills as well as motivate them to study English. Versions 3 and 4 of this site were developed in partial fulfillment of the course requirements for MDDE 615 Human Factors in  Education Technology offered by Athabasca University. Version 5 of this website was also used in the development of a thesis: Web Design for Effective Online Training and Instruction.

The final version of this website, version 6, has been the result of survey feedback from MDDE 615 colleagues and the application of thesis conclusions based on a web mining analysis study and an extensive review of usability design principles in the research literature. 

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and final version:

NOTE All links for version six of are functioning, though some of the earlier version links may be broken.


Version 1 - ESL Home Page for SMU Students Version 1:
Designed for Sookmyung Women's University students participating in the General English Program (GEP II). Student photos were scanned and and added to phrase and dialog contributions. Student feedback was encouragingly positive. 


Version 2 - ESL Home Page for SMU Students Version 2:
3-frame version was designed for use in GEP III. A Learning English With the Internet (LEWI) survey conducted near the end of the course indicated a high interest in online learning, especially in ESL games, pen pals and listening activities.


Version 3 - My English Buddy Prototype for MDDE 615

Version 3:
A 4-Frame version was designed as a prototype for MDDE 615 and for use in GEP III. Feedback from course colleagues indicated that the interface was cluttered, advertising annoying and the site sluggish, especially the home page.


Version 4 - Final Version After MDDE 615 Design and Study Version 4:
Home page clutter was lessened. Flash welcome message was redesigned to be more eye catching. Inner pages were redesigned to 3-frames, images shrunk, tool bar better placed and over all site speed increased by 50%. Lessons also added.


Version 5 - Usability and Web Mining Study Version 5:
AXS and HitBox tracking codes were added to each page to monitor page hits, paths, time spent, links selected, and other usage stats. Six new discussion boards and a Java chat room with meeting times were also added. 


Final Version - A Great Place to Learn English Online Final Version:
Web mining results indicated a high percentage of visitors entered via non-frame pages and left right away. Frames and Flash components in navigation pages were removed. Navigation pages were also redesigned to load in less than 10s over 28.8K.

Version 1 - Personal Photos Grab Interest


In October of 1998, Version 1 of was designed for Sookmyung Women's University (SMU) students participating in the General English Program (GEP II) to showcase work they had done and to introduce them to a new way of learning. The level of English of the students in the GEP program  ranged from "could barely speak a word" to "almost fluent." This marked difference in level of ability, along with short class meeting times of only two hours per week, made it difficult to develop materials suitable for all students and also provide students with enough instruction necessary to facilitate language acquisition. It thus seemed appropriate to give students the opportunity and direction to do self-help web-based learning and explore the rapidly expanding cyber world.

Although, the climate has certainly changed now, back then, most Koreans were  a little nervous about the Internet and very few students had email accounts. Scanned photos of the students proved to be quite effective in grabbing their attention and encouraging them to spend a little more time reading the web-based phrases and dialogs than they might have spent otherwise. This small success was a sign of the potential of the Internet for ESL, and encouraged me to push a little deeper into the new Web phenomena. 

Version 2 - Three Frames are Usable for Lab Classes


In the following 1999, Winter semester, SMU had clearly jumped on the Internet Bandwagon, opening a cyber university and purchasing hundreds of new computers to fill new computer labs. 

It was also requested that the Internet become an important part of GEP III, and viewed as the resident computer guru in the GEP department, I was asked to initiate the development of Internet related learning materials. A new 3-frame version of my ESL site was developed along with handouts to instruct students how to get a Yahoo Internet-based email account. 

Many of the instructors in GEP had success getting students online, success that has paid off, as most students at SMU currently have email accounts with Yahoo, Hotmail or Hanmail (the hottest Korean service for Internet-based email). The 3-frame version, which was mostly text-based and had minimal graphics, proved to be very fast and usable on the SMU network. Students in particular enjoyed the chat sessions at the end of our computer lab classes, especially since none of them had never chatted online with a foreigner.

Survey Results 

A Learning English With the Internet (LEWI) survey conducted near the end of the 1999 Fall semester gave the following results using the 3-frame version: 

  • Interest - Students were interested in studying English on the Internet.

  • Design & Content - Students wanted help in finding email pen pals and they wanted to play ESL related games. They also wanted to learn how to chat, send email, and search for information on the Web. 

More specifically, the survey results were as follows:

  1. Do you like learning English with the Internet? More than 80% (116/140) of the students responded positively to this question. 37% responded VERY positively (52/140). 

  2. If you were to study English using the Internet, what would you like to DO or LEARN the most? Students were most interesting in: (a) finding a foreign pen pal 34/140; (b) playing English related games 33/140; (c) learning how to use chat lines 19/140; (d) listening to recorded information and filling in the missing words 13/140; (e) learning how to send email 12/140; and (f) learning how to search the Web for information (in considering the validity of these results, it should be noted that students were allowed to select only one item from a list of ten).

GoTo Search Term Survey

A survey of key words related to ESL and English using the GoTo Search Term Suggestion Tool gave the following results for December:

Search Term

December 1999 Count

esl grammar 
esl lesson 
esl quiz 
esl education 
esl game 
esl resource 
esl program 
esl activity 
esl chat 
esl online 
esl course 
esl exercises 
esl class 
esl chat room 
esl reading 
esl site 


english dictionary
Oxford English dictionary
english grammar
english as a second language
english language
learn english
english grammer
learning english
dictionary online english
oxford english dictionary online
english course

This GoTo survey indicated an interest in grammar exercises, dictionaries, ESL quizzes, ESL games and ESL lessons. 

A similar survey conducted in April, 2000 revealed a 68% increase on the survey word "english" and a 32% increase on the word "esl" and from a 200% to 500% percent increase on word like "esl quizzes," esl games" and "esl reading." This increase was striking due to the fact that other searches with English key word unrelated to language learning showed no increase. 

Interestingly enough, in the Spring of 2000, online English learning exploded with EF's, the leading provider of free online English learning. Curiously enough, it was providing many of the services that my survey results indicated were important to my ESL students.  

Version 3 - Interface Clutter Very Distracting


In the Winter 2000 session, it became clearly evident that SMU hoped to establish itself as one of Korea's foremost Internet leaders. More computers were purchased and SMU increasingly began to host Internet-based conferences. However, the SMU network began to show growing pains. Bandwidth was becoming scarce. At 9:00 a.m. when all workers and labs opened for students, the SMU network slowed down to a crawl with access speeds at less than 14 K.

Undaunted, and myself caught up in the glory of Flash multimedia, RealAudio and other bleeding edge technologies, I created a four-frame version of my ESL website, added more graphics and even purchased two domain names to give it a home ( and

The site navigation menu was designed to reflect the GoTo and LEWI survey results with games, pen pals, listening and chat activities as the first four menu items.

This site was also developed as a prototype for MDDE 615 an AU course in Human Factors in Education Technology. A mid-term online feedback survey using QuickPoll by course colleagues generated the following positive remarks:

  • Clear Navigation - 19 of 22 evaluators found that the homepage navigation menu was clear and easy to use 

  • Interesting - 18 of 20 evaluators found that they were able to find something interesting to click on very quickly 

  • Frames Aided Navigation - 17 of 19 evaluators found the use of frames aided navigation and allowed them to quickly grasp content 

On the downside, the following criticisms were noted:

  • Too Much Clutter - I9 of 20 evaluators disagreed that site structured and content seemed uncluttered

  • Too Busy - 7 evaluators thought the site was too busy and that "there was too much happening 

  • Too Slow - Although 14 of 24 evaluators agreed that the home page loaded fast enough to keep their attention 5 disagreed. 

  • Advertising Inappropriate -  9 evaluators didn't like the Global English advertising and considered it inappropriate. 

  • Flash Component Didn't Load Properly - Although a number of evaluators reported that the Flash component on the home page was the best part of the site and that "the homepage Flash audio was clear, 6 evaluators reported "clicking sounds," while 7 where unable to load any part of the Flash component.

  • RealSlideshow Presentation Froze - Although 8 evaluators found that the RealSlideshow presentation played very well, 5 evaluators found that the images froze. 

Version 4 - Too Many Frames 


As a result of the QuickPoll feedback, was redesigned back to three frames and the easier-to-remember name branded. The four-frame format advocated based on a model proposed by Gillani and Relan (1997) was just too much for users. Advertising was also reduced in size and the color scheme redesigned to make the site less visually jarring.

The Home Page and Frames Page averages of the prototype being well over the 47.8K limit recommended by Flanders (1999) were also reduced in size, with an emphasis on reducing image saturation in .gif files using ImageReady. The "Home Page" was reduced by more than 55% to 35K from 78K, while the Frames Page was reduced by 33% to 54K from 81K (it should be noted that the above home page total does not include the 60K Flash component). 

But alas, the bleeding technology bug would not let go and I redesigned my Flash component from 60K to 66K, perhaps for no other reason than to prove I could do it. Yes, it looks kind of neat, but in terms of usability, it should have been in the trash bin a lot sooner.  

Version 5  Web Mining with AXS, HitBox and WebTrends


To develop a thesis I was working on, I redesigned my ESL website (cut the audio on the Flash) and most importantly included tracking codes on most of the pages from AXS and HitBox to monitor usage and access. I also downloaded 14-day trial versions of WebTrends Logfile Analzer and NetTracker, as well as a free copy of OpenWebScope to analyze my log files.

The heart of my thesis was a series of 200 questions I had developed for designing web-based materials based on learning theories and practical design strategies as researched in the literature (I like to refer to these questions as WeBIC ... Web-Based Instruction Checklist). With WeBIC, I wanted to find out if my students could learn better with web-enhanced learning materials compared with learning materials designed using a modified form of APA writing style.    

In the Fall of 2000, I was quite excited. However, I quickly ran into some serious problems. SMU, in its never ending quest to be recognized as an Internet leader in Korea, purchased more computers to add to its network. However, it has not yet upgraded its main line. Currently, with from 5,000 to 8,000 students depending on whether you count part-timers or not, there are over 3,000 computers connected to one measly 1 GBps line to the Internet (in absolute perfect conditions this is about 30Kps per computer user). What this means is that each year, as more and more students jump on the Internet bandwagon, more and more end up fighting for the same bandwidth

In cold practical terms, what this meant to me is that my carefully constructed thesis project nearly fell apart at the seams as I had to quickly redesign by learning materials to become more accessible. Access speed is the Internet's nemesis, and it almost bested me.

Version 6  Speed and Navigation are King


I discovered that my three-frame online learning materials were navigational nightmares to ESL learners who had only a few minutes to figure out and master their design. I found that simpler one-frame and two-frame page layouts worked better. I also found out a fact that bears emphasis: ESL learners do not read English. Just as usability gurus on the Internet preach that users prefer to scan, ESL learners will do everything but read to figure out how to operate an interface.  They will click buttons and get lost, look at what others are doing (if in a computer lab), and stare at a screen blankly waiting for something to happen rather than click on an icon that says "go to the next page" (commercial vendors targeting international audiences in English should heed this advice).

My Web mining results also indicated that from 25% to 30% of visitors entered my site via a non-frame based page and were left with too few navigational aids to stay much longer than a few seconds. A page with no navigation also means less content and less interest.

In short, because of the sluggish SMU network, the large percentage of users entering via non-frames page, and the fact that ESL learners especially need simple interfaces, I redesigned my site so that each page would load in ten seconds less, followed a simple two column Yahooish less cluttered design, and provided simple consistent navigational aids, as much as possible on every page. I also made the bold step to purchase as a final home for this site. Although will not have to worry itself too much about my presence, it does make me quite happy to realize that is four letters less ... and that four letters more in cyber space is about four light years more in outer space.  

Initial impressions by users and students, have been quite encouraging. It has also made me smile a bit while colleagues panic unable to access their Hotmail accounts, and my new site pops up rather reliably ready to be used.    



Shortly after I decided to abandon Flash and other bleeding edge technologies, Nielsen reported Flash: 99% Bad (October 29). 

I think that it is important that all web designers experiment with Flash and other bleeding edge technologies, as well as various frame designs, but when it comes down to creating usable web media, one-frame is best for commercial sites with two frames a possible choice for more educational sites that are not too worried about users accidentally entering a non-frames page through a search engine.

My bleeding edge technology bug has been cured. But a possible new affliction looms ...

Web mining is another bug that has recently caught hold of me. Unfortunately, most web mining tracking codes like the ones I used from AXS and HitBox hog bandwidth just like large graphic files, freeze downloads, and provide results that are far from accurate. Sure the nifty free AXS script is amazing for tracking outside links and the hundreds of HitBox stats cool, but do I really need this information?

For the next year or two, I will go back to the basics: content, speed, navigation and simplicity, and search for a free tracking code that loads in a flash so I can learn a little bit more about this new bug before abandoning it with the others.



Flanders, V. (1999). How big can I make my page? Retrieved February 5, 2000 from the World Wide Web:

Gillani, B.B. & Relan, A. (1997). Incorporating interactivity and multimedia into web-based instruction. In B. H. Khan (Ed.), Web-based instruction, (pp. 231-237). Educational Technology Publications: New Jersey.


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