Web Usability: It's Time to Start Taking Simple Seriously

Web Usability: It's Time to Start Taking Simple Seriously

Can you remember the last time you bought something? What about the last time you found what you were looking for online? Let’s dive even further. How about the last time you stumbled on a website and felt confident about what you were doing?

Mike Moran recently wrote about creating web experiences that people fall in love with and one of the fundamental ways to assist in that is to make your site extremely easy to use.

What’s the difference between usability and user experience? How does usability interact with UX? These are commonly asked questions, and are answered by tons of different perspectives from respectable people online. This SlideShare sums it up, perfectly. 

It’s time to focus on simplicity.

Every single website is built for a reason. Why else would you invest time and effort into creating or maintaining it? Why else would you hire an agency to design it? Understanding the core reasons of a website's purpose or why we build things is mission critical.

Usability Cartoon

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If you are a cupcake shop, it’s probably easy to understand why you’d want a website. You want the world to be able to find your cupcakes online and contribute to your business by contacting you through a form, calling the number provided, finding your menu, open hours or directions and eventually buying something. Usability can help you with every single step.

Usability makes sure that your 'hours of operation' are easily accessible. It ensures that your phone number is the correct one and easily clickable. It creates an easy-to-navigate experience on your website so that your users can learn everything they need to know without much effort at all. That’s the point. It can be as robust as you'd like as long as it's easy to use.

“The problem is there are no simple “right” answers for most Web design questions (at least not for the important ones). What works is good, integrated design that fills a need—carefully thought out, well executed, and tested.” Steve Krug

Usability should be the driving force for making complicated things seem easy.

Let’s say you are a landscaping company. All the text on your website reads about being located in Bartlett, TN (a suburb of Memphis, TN). However, what if I live in Germantown? In the 5 seconds I stay on your website, is it obvious to me that you also cut grass in my neighborhood?

Let’s say you are a restaurant. I’ve never visited before but I am very interested in what you've got to offer. I find your website online and I look for your hours of operation. I find a section that says you “open early on Saturdays” but close at 12:00. What does open early mean? What’s early for you may not be early for me. Do you close at noon or midnight?

Finally, let’s say you are a company that sells a ton of stuff online. That might mean you have hundreds of categories. Those categories might make sense to you because you are an expert at your business, but they could confuse the average person who isn't as familiar. Understanding how people use and interact with your store could mean more business for you.

Let’s say you’ve got a nice website. You are happy with the design. Do you know what your website looks like on an iPad or an Android tablet (landscape and portrait)? Most important, how does it look on a smartphone?

Usability Cartoon

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The Nielsen Norman Group breaks usability into five key components:

  • Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
  • Efficiency: Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
  • Memorability: When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they reestablish proficiency?
  • Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?
  • Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the design?

Read the full article.

Usability testing, is it right for you?

So we’ve hit on the “what” but now we need to talk about the “how”. We’ve established the core principles of usability but sometimes it can be difficult to really understand what we’re looking for. In particular, a few common questions/concerns are:

  • What’s causing issues on my website?
  • Where are my users getting stuck?
  • Does my main navigation make sense?
  • Do my calls-to-action communicate effectively?
  • Can user’s find what they are looking for?
“Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible.” Don Norman
Usability Cartoon

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Usability methods to consider.

Baseline testing:

This type of testing is actually evaluating users using your product/website. This can be in-person or with newer software such as UserTesting.com. Usually, the tester will provide a list of items or tasks and observe the individual. (learn more)

Focus groups, user-surveys or interviews:

This type of testing is really about compiling information. It’s really important to drill down and ask targeting people the right types of questions. (learn more)

Card Sort testing:

This type of testing can be very crucial to assisting with information architecture development. This test allows users to group things into categories for you in regards to what makes sense for them. (learn more)

Wireframe testing:

Wireframes are basically roadmaps to evaluate navigation on a website. They are super important when planning navigation, image layout, content layout and other design aspects. (learn more)

First click testing:

This type of testing examines what users click first. On the web, this is super important. One wrong click could mean one less customer. (learn more)

Satisfaction surveys:

This type of testing is the simplest. Just ask people how their experience was. Online surveys can be very insightful for learning about the do’s and dont’s of your website. Plus, they can uncover many types of issues you may have overlooked. (learn more)

Put your site to the test.

You'll never know until you test it. There’s a slew of books, tools and software out there available to use. However, we know this stuff can get complicated. If you’d like, we’d love to team up and test the usability on your site.


Questions? Comments? Feel free to drop us a line in the comment section or contact us for a free usability assessment.
Posted by Michael Morgan at 7:45 AM

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