What makes a good website? Is it design, beauty or content?
Whatever the answer, the answer lies in the website’s ease of usability. Broadly speaking, this is the ease with which a user of users can find the content they want on a particular website. It might also refer to how easy it is for users to comprehend it well (font type, size, colour, other graphics on page, how long etc).
Easy to use websites offer great user experiences, and great user experiences lead to happy users (who may be customers).
Usability and the utility, not the visual design, determine the success or failure of a web-site. Since the visitor of the page is the only person who clicks the mouse and therefore decides everything, user-centric design has become a standard approach for successful and profit-oriented web design. After all, if users can’t use a feature, it might as well not exist.
Principles Of Effective Web Design
In order to use the principles properly we first need to understand how users interact with web-sites, how they think and what are the basic patterns of users’ behavior.
How do users think?
Basically, users’ habits on the Web aren’t that different from customers’ habits in a store. Visitors glance at each new page, scan some of the text, and click on the first link that catches their interest or vaguely resembles the thing they’re looking for. In fact, there are large parts of the page they don’t even look at.
Most users search for something interesting (or useful) and clickable; as soon as some promising candidates are found, users click. If the new page doesn’t meet users’ expectations, the Back button is clicked and the search process is continued.
- Users appreciate quality and credibility.If a page provides users with high-quality content, they are willing to compromise the content with advertisements and the design of the site. This is the reason why not-that-well-designed web-sites with high-quality content gain a lot of traffic over years. Content is more important than the design which supports it.
- Users don’t read, they scan.Analyzing a web-page, users search for some fixed points or anchors which w
- Web users are impatient and insist on instant gratification.Very simple principle: If a web-site isn’t able to meet users’ expectations, then designer failed to get his job done properly and the company loses money. The higher is the cognitive load and the less intuitive is the navigation, the more willing are users to leave the web-site and search for alternatives. [JN / DWU]
- Users don’t make optimal choices.Users don’t search for the quickest way to find the information they’re looking for. Neither do they scan web-page in a linear fashion, going sequentially from one site section to another one. Instead users satisfice; they choose the first reasonable option. As soon as they find a link that seems like it might lead to the goal, there is a very good chance that it will be immediately clicked. Optimizing is hard, and it takes a long time. Satisficing is more efficient. [video]
- Users follow their intuition.In most cases users muddle through instead of reading the information a designer has provided. According to Steve Krug, the basic reason for that is that users don’t care. “If we find something that works, we stick to it. It doesn’t matter to us if we understand how things work, as long as we can use them. If your audience is going to act like you’re designing billboard, then design great billboards.”
- Users want to have control.Users want to be able to control their browser and rely on the consistent data presentation throughout the site. E.g. they don’t want new windows popping up unexpectedly and they want to be able to get back with a “Back”-button to the site they’ve been before: therefore it’s a good practice to never open links in new browser windows.
Don’t Make Users think
Don’t squander users’ patients
Long or many step sigup forms, remove barriers, subscription or payment first will send away many people
Manage to focus users’ attention
Strive for feature exposure
Make use of effective writing
- use short and concise phrases (come to the point as quickly as possible),
- use scannable layout (categorize the content, use multiple heading levels, use visual elements and bulleted lists which break the flow of uniform text blocks),
- use plain and objective language (a promotion doesn’t need to sound like advertisement; give your users some reasonable and objective reason why they should use your service or stay on your web-site)
Strive for simplicity
Communicate effectively with a “visible language”
In his papers on effective visual communication, Aaron Marcus states three fundamental principles involved in the use of the so-called “visible language” — the content users see on a screen.
- Organize: provide the user with a clear and consistent conceptual structure. Consistency, screen layout, relationships and navigability are important concepts of organization. The same conventions and rules should be applied to all elements.
- Economize: do the most with the least amount of cues and visual elements. Four major points to be considered: simplicity, clarity, distinctiveness, and emphasis.Simplicityincludes only the elements that are most important for communication.Clarity: all components should be designed so their meaning is not ambiguous.Distinctiveness: the important properties of the necessary elements should be distinguishable. Emphasis: the most important elements should be easily perceived.
- Communicate: match the presentation to the capabilities of the user. The user interface must keep in balance legibility, readability, typography, symbolism, multiple views, and color or texture in order to communicate successfully. Use 3 typefaces in a maximum of 3 point sizes— a maximum of 18 words or 50-80 characters per line of text.
Don’t be afraid of white space
Mind the convections
Test early, test often
- according to Steve Krug, testing one user is 100% better than testing noneand testing one user early in the project is better than testing 50 near the end. Accoring to Boehm’s first law, errors are most frequent during requirements and design activities and are the more expensive the later they are removed.
- testing is an iterative process. That means that you design something, test it, fix it and then test it again. There might be problems which haven’t been found during the first round as users were practically blocked by other problems.
- usability tests always produce useful results. Either you’ll be pointed to the problems you have or you’ll be pointed to the absence of major design flaws which is in both cases a useful insight for your project.
- according to Weinberg’s law, a developer is unsuited to test his or her code. This holds for designers as well. After you’ve worked on a site for few weeks, you can’t observe it from a fresh perspective anymore. You know how it is built and therefore you know exactly how it works — you have the wisdom independent testers and visitors of your site wouldn’t have.
Bottom line: if you want a great site, you’ve got to test.
- Designing Effective User Interfacesby Suzanne Martin
- Summary on Web Design
- UID presentation(Flash)
- Research-Based Web Design & Usability Guidelines
- “The psychology of computer programming” by Gerald Weinberg
- “Designing Web Usability” by Jakob Nielsen[JN / DWU]
- “Prioritizing Web Usability” by Jakob Nielsen
- “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug
- “Usability for the Web: Designing Web Sites that Work” by Tom Brinck, Darren Gergle, Scott Wood
- A Summary of Principles for User-Interface Design
Please don’t make me think!
www.Usability.gov is a one-stop source for government web designers to learn how to make websites more usable, useful, and accessible. The site addresses a broad range of factors that go into web design and development. The site will help you to:
- Plan and design usable sites by collecting data on what users need
- Develop prototypes
- Conduct usability tests and write up results
- Measure trends and demographics
You may also benefit from these resources
A United States government compiled best practices of what is already known in the process of website design usability and optimization.
Usefulness of content
Providing useful content that is relevant, engaging and appropriate for the audience, ensuring the site meet’s users needs
Do not waste resources providing easy access and good usability to the wrong content. One study found that content is the most critical element of a Web site. Other studies have reported that content is more important than navigation, visual design, functionality, and interactivity.