Usability Principles Know your users.
Know the tasks your users perform.
Know what performance means to your users.
Most of us want our web sites to be as inviting and easy to navigate as possible. Sometimes in the heat of design battle, however, we forget to follow basic usability guidelines. Here's a concise list of usability principles that might prove useful.
The first section lays out questions you should be asking yourself as you design your site. These are followed by a handy 10-point checklist.
Is it efficient?
- Can tasks be performed with keyboard strokes? (Important for power users.)
- Does the site reflect a clear understanding of how users do their work?
- Are response times fast enough to keep users in a flow state?
Is it intuitive?
- Does it take advantage of users' mental models?
- Does it behave consistently throughout?
- Is it visually consistent?
Is it supportive?
- Does it allow mistakes to be easily undone?
- Does it provide advice? tools? reference materials?
Is it engaging?
- Do users feel in control?
- Do users enjoy their experience?
- Remember the eight-second rule. Consumers have eight seconds worth of patience while waiting for your pages to load. This is especially true for home pages. It's like the restaurant business mantra: Don't keep them waiting, or they'll leave and never return.
- Show personality. When the first screen from your web site appears on someone's monitor, it should portray your business in a distinctive light. Branding is the current term used to describe how a business or product distinguishes itself from the competition. Spend some time creating a brandit's a worthwhile exercise.
- Design with the user in mind. Usability should not constrain good design. Good design, on the other hand, should create a very usable site. Don't let your team members get too isolated in their own functional worlds. Designers, writers, marketers, and technicians should keep one eye on the big picture at all times. Functionality and design should blend together to create a positive user experience.
- Make your site easy to learn. A good site should be like good softwareyou shouldn't need a manual to learn how to use it. Create a logical taxonomy and integrate good navigational tools. Design your site so that people constantly "guess right."
- Don't let them lose the scent. Remember, men never ask for directions. If someone gets lost in the middle of your web labyrinth, they'll most likely leaveman or woman. Help them stay on the trail.
- Write well. Agree upon a standard dictionary and use it. Determine a house style and stick to it. (Don't show e-commerce, ecommerce, and eCommerce on the same page.) Consistency is key throughout. Find someone with editing skills and have him or her read all copy before posting. Writers should not be the final reviewers of their own words. And, don't forget to run spell check one last time before publishing.
- Enable visitor feedback. Give folks a way to offer praise, make suggestions, and ask for clarification. Make it easy for them to contact younot only through the web site, but via phone, e-mail, fax, and snail mail. It's true what they say: There are fewer collisions on one-way streets, but it's harder to turn around if you're going the wrong way.
- Give people what they want. If you're a photographer, display pictures. If you sell books, show people how to purchase them. If you're running a visitor center, give people a reason to visit. It seems obvious, but sometimes we forget and give people what we want instead of what they want.
- Don't forget to test. Formulate your usability testing criteria, then test, test, test. Team members often become too close to the site's functionality and, as a result, lose their objectivity. Show the site to outsiders and document their experiences. Watch them navigate. Note their body language as pages appear on the monitor. Most importantly, let them control the mouse.
Remember to strive for a quick-loading, well-designed, solidly written, easily maneuverable, thoroughly tested, pleasantly interactive, meaningful, and distinctive web site. In doing so, you will have taken an important step toward rising above the noise.
Editor's Note: Special thanks to Christina Formentini for her contribution to this article.