We have to understand that the design of a website is not usable or unusable per se. A website’s level of usability consists of multiple factors that we can measure. To define usability, we have to return to the early 90s and refer to what we used to call “user-friendly.” For a website to be user-friendly back then, it had to be visually pleasing and easy to understand/use.
Moreover, visitors had to find everything in a short amount of time and make the best of the site’s functions in a smooth flow. Have things changed up to this point? Specialists say they did, so we need to rethink usability according to the new paradigms. Today, we will discuss five usability considerations you need to pay attention to when designing a new website.
1. Usability is not the Same Thing as UX
Today, usability is a part of what we call User Experience and refers to the ease of access and use of a certain website or product. According to , usability is “the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use.”
When it comes to a website’s usability, we need to narrow down the criteria, to understand better what stands behind a “highly usable” site:
- Product design – the way a product looks;
- User’s sentiment – what emotions the user experiences when using the product;
- User’s performance – how easy it is for the user to use the product.
As a sub-category of User Experience, usability in describes the ease of access and the ease of use of the website. Many mistake usability with UX, but in truth, usability is an essential part of UX without describing .
2. Everything is User-Centered
Regarding usability, the first thing you need to consider is the user’s first contact with the website. The user-centric design means that the designer and development team need to focus on the goals, mental models, and requirements of the user. In other words, the main key-concepts in the early stage of website design are availability and accessibility.
If a user tries to access the site and stumbles upon obstacles, your website becomes less valuable. At this stage, you need to focus on server uptime (), perfect indexing and no broken links, and mobile responsiveness. These are mandatory aspects of the whole UX, but you should not disregard them when you focus on usability alone.
In the framework of user-centric designs, you need to keep an eye on relevancy, as well. The discussion about relevancy is long, and it deserves a separate chapter, but in short, making the website relevant for distinct categories and subcategories of users is a goal you need to accomplish.
3. The Core of Usability is Clarity
When availability and access are at their maximum, users can become familiar with and competent in using the website’s interface to reach their goals. If they want to purchase a book from an online store, he needs to reach the shopping cart fast and with no confusion, frustration, or obstacles.
To achieve website clarity, you need to focus on two main aspects: design and processes. If users spend precious time trying to figure out how to find or use what they came for, they will deem your website as “user-unfriendly,” and they will probably leave dissatisfied and less likely to return.
Luckily, long gone are the days when websites displayed a cornucopia of neon colors and entire blocks of text. Since , websites tend to look clean and simple and function in a smooth, intuitive flow.
However, it is your job to make the users’ lives easy and pleasant while they visit your website.
Therefore, here are some aspects you need to consider when you design the website:
· Keep the design clean, simple, with no clutter and fluff, and make sure the colors follow the UX rules;
· Offer people a sense of familiarity; you want them to solve their needs fast and in a satisfactory manner, so in a familiarity vs. novelty confrontation, the former should win;
· Offer them a sense of consistency and coherence throughout the entire website; originality and novelty can find their rightful places in other areas of web development;
· Offer the users hooks, cogs, and wheels – in a metaphorical sense – so they can travel through your website in an efficient manner. You need them to have a clear sense of the paths to take and offer them the proper guidelines;
· Good information architecture is also mandatory for creating a website structure that complies with the users’ mental models.
4. Re-usability is Key
Users should easily recall the site’s design and its main functions, so the next time they use the site, they can re-use it just as easy as the first time. In other words, usable design means offering the user a learning opportunity he can replicate without effort.
Specialists call this feature “learnability” and describe it regarding the intuitive interface. In short, your website achieves learnability when users learn very quickly how to use a new design or recognize immediately a design they saw before.
Humans love patterns and recognition. Therefore, a familiar and intuitive interface helps them get around your website faster and with little to no frustrations. There is no shame in using designs that we all know work with great success. Predictability is something we all need for psychological comfort.
5. Your Website needs to be Credible
In the past years, sites with zero credibility started accumulating penalties and losing their visitors, but there are still plenty of swindles out there. When it comes to credibility, you need to return to the first contact stage.
The user needs to know what you do the moment he accesses your website. Do not burry information deep in the website to keep people digging and getting frustrated because they cannot find what they were looking for in the first place.
Tricks and frauds are also a no-no. You can try, but you will not last long. Moreover, you need to make sure people visiting the website believe you exist or you can deliver on your promise. Any web designer knows that a reliable website should contain the following:
- A clear About Us page – in the digital era, people recognize stock photos and fake content with ease, so keep everything as clear, authentic, and honest as possible;
- A clear Contact Page – offering users clear and actionable contact details to increase your credibility;
- If you sell something, have a clear display of prices or at least a price calculator – it is a common practice for websites to reveal prices upon request, but people are less and less happy with this strategy. Remember time is everything and competition is fierce – you may lose users and customers simply because they can learn in a second what your competition offers and for how much.
- Keep it low-key with bombastic testimonials – people tend to believe most are fakes. On the other hand, if you have expertise in a field, show that expertise in a professional, clear, and simple manner.
- Keep the content interesting and clean – no matter what type of content you display, avoid misspells, grammatical errors, plagiarism, and so on. If we are to listen to MOZ experts (and we should), there is a direct and indestructible connection between .
Designing a website for usability is the first step when designing a website for the ultimate UX. As we mentioned a few times before, the friendlier your website is, the more chances it has to rank well in search engines and keep users engaged not only with the site per se but with your brand as well.
Author Bio: Hellen Sermeno is an experienced UX consultant and web design specialist from Australia. Her greatest passion is observing how users interact with different device layouts and customizing their experience based on micro moments.