Digital/Online Marketing Communications Strategy

Top 6 Usability Tips For Website Design

By on January 26, 2010 in web user experience with 0 Comments

This is a guest post by Ruben Reyes, President of Lyquix, Inc. a Philadelphia-based  IT and web development company. Ruben works hard to help prevent poorly designed websites from ever seeing the light of day and I’m pleased he was kind enough to write this article outlining six important usability tips. Read up and learn from someone who deals with these types of matters on a daily basis.

1. You Are Not The Typical User

This is the first thing you should acknowledge and embrace. Usually, designers, marketing managers, and business owners make design decisions based on their own taste and browsing style. The end result is a website that works well for the person that made the decisions but not necessarily for the audience at large.

The answer is testing. You don’t need to spend a lot of money or make it super scientific. Just find people that have absolutely no interest in your project, like your neighbor who doesn’t understand what your company does, or your aunt. If they look at your website and they don’t get it, you’ve got a sign that it is not evident enough. Ask questions about what people think and LISTEN, don’t be defensive or try to explain. Ask them to perform some simple task; like find out who is the Operations Manager, or how long has the company been in business or what is the phone number, and OBSERVE if the process is smooth or cumbersome.

2. Understand How Users Behave

Users don’t like to read. When presented with a crowded page, or a long article, people just scan it quickly looking for that tiny piece of information or the next link.

Users won’t even scan the whole page: as they read through text they are evaluating if a particular sentence or link seems good enough, and take it. What this means is that people don’t make optimal choices, they just pick the first “good enough” option they find along the way. So if there is a better option a few lines after one that is just “good enough,” they are not going to get to the better option (at least not on the first try).

Users don’t understand how things work or are intended to be used. They just stick to whatever works for them. When I said that they don’t like to read, that includes instructions. You might be surprised how people use your website in ways you never intended it. Have you seen people that type the address of a website in the Google or Yahoo search box? Or that double-click on links? Or that make 10 clicks to get to a page that they can reach in one click?

3. Make Things Obvious

Have you been to a website looking for the company office address and find a link that says “Global Presence”? It makes you wonder if that is the page you are looking for. When something is obvious you don’t have to think to understand it and decide if that is what you want or not. The more people have to think to understand your website, the higher the energy, frustration and time required for them. The principle is simple: if something is difficult to use people will avoid using it.

For this reason you should avoid using fancy terms to denote simple things. Avoid acronyms, especially the ones created by your company. Avoid technical terms that people outside of your profession will not understand. Make buttons look like buttons, and links look like links.

4. Visually Prioritize and Organize

In some cases you need to have pages with lots of information and options. Usually that’s the case for the Home page since it is the entry point of your website. Here is where a GOOD graphic designer can help. Use graphic elements to ensure that there are clear priorities: what is the most important, what is navigation, what is secondary information. Font size, colors, images and movement are tools that can be used to draw the attention of the user to an area of the page. But be aware: you don’t want to get too creative – after so many years people have grown accustomed to expect certain things to be placed in specific locations or look in certain ways. If you put your menu on the right and start underlining text just to be original you will confuse visitors.

5. Avoid Unnecessary Words

If users only scan, don’t want to think, don’t make optimal choices and have very little tolerance to anything that seems difficult or time consuming, then why would you present them with long and useless copy? Avoid unnecessary words in each sentence, avoid unnecessary sentences in each paragraph. Eliminate all the flashy and self-congratulatory language and get straight to the point.

6. “You Are Here”

Websites can be an ocean of pages and information. Unlike in the physical world, we cannot associate things that are located right or left, or 1 mile down the road. However, it is still possible to organize your website in a way that makes sense to the user and enables them to draw a mental map of connections that they can use to navigate easily.

For every single page, make sure that users can easily understand where they are standing. Show the title of the page, highlight in what section you are located, make links to parent pages or the sequence of pages you followed to get there (breadcrumbs), and of course, have links to related pages.

Additional resources

If you want to learn more about usability, here are some great resources:

Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, 2nd Edition, by Steve Krug

Designing Web Usability, by Jakob Nielsen

AlertBox, www.useit.com/alertbox/, a newsletter on web usability by Jakob Nielsen

So what do you think of Ruben’s top 6 usability tips? Do you have tips of your own to share? Comments welcome.

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

About the Author

About the Author: Deni Kasrel is seasoned (slightly spicy) specialist in digital/online communications. .

Subscribe

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

No Comments Yet

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Lin says:

    Great article! I agree with you, nowadays people make such complex websites that are so incredibly hard to navigate through. Just keep it simple!
    http://luremmarketing.com/website-design.php

  2. JanetA says:

    You are so right Deni or Ruben or both. So many websites seem to be designed to service a handful of insiders.Even with virtually everyone hooked up to a computer,this is not a safe assumption– worse someone may have gone to the trouble to set up a web site which doesn’t get the attention it deserves because it is difficult to navigate. First rule ought to be – accessibility. Go Deni.

    • Deni Kasrel says:

      Janet,

      How right you are. The “insider” syndrome is all too prevalent when it comes to building a website. Many “cutting-edge” sites don’t cut it in the real world, because the typical user does not have the foggiest notion of how the site works. As Ruben notes here, and I have noted in prior posts, the key is to test your site on people who are not familiar with your company — these truly fresh eyes will tell you if your website is all that it can be, or not.

  3. Idelle says:

    Nice, Here you have described the designing at the user point of view; most of the designers forget the users are not that much tech savvy or expert to use some complex functions provided in website.

    I completely agree with you!

    • Deni Kasrel says:

      Idelle,

      Thanks for your comment. Indeed, many web designers and/or developers have a hard time getting out of their own heads. They are not aware of how the site is perceived by the average user — testing can surely help, though that too is an art in and of itself.

  4. The tips you gave are quite useful. I liked the breadcrumb idea. Otherwise there is a large probability that a user will be lost in the ocean of web pages.

    Thanks for sharing.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Top