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NCI Develops Web Design Guidelines

In an effort to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of federal government health information on the World Wide Web, the National Cancer Institute has developed a comprehensive set of web design guidelines based on research studies in the field. The Research-Based Web Design and Usability Guidelines represent several years of intense effort by NCI to identify web design-related research and compile a practical set of guidelines. These guidelines, located on NCI's site ( will be used primarily by web masters and designers throughout government to improve online services.

"With more and more patients, researchers and the public seeking health information online, it is critical that NCI and other government web sites be highly intuitive, easy-to-use and accessible to the public," said Janice Nall, chief of NCI's Communication Technologies Branch. "If we are to realize our goal of reducing the cancer burden on the nation and building a healthier, better informed America, then the 'business as usual' approach to online health communications must change. Far too much time and money have already been spent designing, then re-designing web sites that aren't effective in helping the public access health and scientific information."

Currently, NCI maintains some 130 web sites across the institute, managed by more than 50 web masters. When factoring in all health agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services, that number rises to approximately 2,000 sites managed by over 400 web masters.

The guidelines will complement NCI's popular web site, which was launched earlier this year. While originally designed to help NCI staff improve the presentation of cancer-related information to cancer researchers and the public, both and the Research-Based Web Design and Usability Guidelines are applicable to anyone who designs and manages information web sites.

"For the first time, a comprehensive list has been compiled that bases its conclusions on available research results, not best guesses," said Dr. Susan Sieber, director of NCI's Office of Communications. "While there are various web guidelines that offer advice, that advice is often based on designers' preferences rather than solid research into what works best for users."

The guidelines — more than 50 in all — will replace the existing web design and usability guidelines that NCI published in 1999.

As more research is analyzed and becomes available, NCI plans to publish a larger set of some 400 research-based guidelines.

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