How to Build a Successful Website Part 5: Usability
In very basic terms, usability means that users can navigate and understand your site, its layout and features easily. There are plenty of complex disciplines that go along with this, but at the end of the day all usability tests ensure that users “get” the website they’re viewing. Few designers ever get this right the first time, although that’s the goal. In many cases, a site’s design team must visit and re-visit site design phases to ensure the best experience for their potential users.
Back to the Drawing Board: Site Planning – Way back in the first part of this series, we talked about the importance of planning and how designers can never do enough of it. Odds are once the site is designed, there may be a few things she has overlooked in the planning process. Ensuring a quality user experience may mean going back to the original planning documents to rework site elements and design ideas.
Keep an Eye on Your Errors – The bane of every Web designer’s existence is the dreaded 404 error. For those out of the loop, such an error shows up when a page or site file no longer exists and cannot be found. Not only are these errors extremely annoying for the user, but also they can adversely affect search engine rankings if the search engine in question finds too many of them.
Maintain Consistency – Usability tests have classically shown that users like consistency. While this isn’t rocket science, many designers miss the boat on this one. All good sites maintain a certain level of consistency as it relates to layout, button locations, logo design and functionality. Keeping these elements in line with one another will go a long way to keep site users coming back for more.
The More the Merrier: A Browser Compatibility Primer – To reach the maximum amount of users possible, a well-designed site must be easily translated across multiple Web browsers. While we’d all love for all users to stick to our preferred browser, that’s just not the world we live in. The new Web user often utilizes multiple Web browsing experiences, and often simultaneously. A site that caters to all the major browsers available to consumers will be more successful than one whose designer ignores the conundrum of Firefox vs. Internet Explorer, or Google Chrome vs. Safari.
Keep it Simple – Lastly, users have the most positive experiences on sites that make navigation and content consumption easy. This means creating a site that’s both simple and eye-catching. The best designers in the business know that a simple, functional design is the most sustainable way to approach Web development. There are plenty of usability and user experience (UX) studies available that highlight this reality.
Since the Web is constantly changing, design practices are constantly evolving along with it. This means that Web design will always be a learning process where industry-current technology trends are in a constant state of flux. Proper design education can be found in both online and traditional college-level classrooms all over the world. Usability involves seeing the big picture of a design project to ensure that it’s meeting its goals by effectively engaging the end-user. For Web designers of every skill level, this undoubtedly involves hours upon hours of trial and error. Keep in mind that all Web design is a constant work in progress.