Usability on the web is a topic that many designers and business owners don’t seem to have a grasp on. For web designers this is an issue because many feel that a good, creative design should not be held hostage to standard usability requirements. While this is sometimes true, the real challenge is for a web designer to appeal to their audience. If their audience is artsy and expecting something cutting-edge, then the designer can feel free to express themselves fully because their audience will expect this. A great example of this is the tokyoplastic.com website. This site is entirely Flash based and mixes 3d with great sound effects. Language barriers asides, this site is hard to use but it is worth trying to figure out.
From a small business owner’s perspective, they want to make sure no clients are lost so usability should be the primary aspect when designing the website. Nothing says “Buy from us” like a great looking site in which a customer cannot figure out how to add an item to a shopping cart. Subsequently, a website that doesn’t look professional will turn customers away. So finding an adequate mix of professional looks with good usability will go a long way with your potential customers.
One important factor to making a website easier to navigate is reducing the perceived number of clicks it takes to get to a page. I say perceived because if your site is well organized and categorized you can have the user click a few times to get to something without it seeming like it. Also, understanding that not all users use websites the way you or I do is important. So giving users a variety of ways of doing the same thing is key.
For example, I recently had the privilege of being a beta-tester for a new CRM tool called Logic Bright CRM. The first thing I noticed was there was several ways to do the same task. The duplicating of links really works because some users may never look at the one on the left and others may not look under the tabs, so this makes it easy for both types of users. Below is a screenshot of what I mean.Navigation
Another aspect of usability is keeping the primary links/navigation of a site in the expected locations. This is usually at the top or left hand side of the screen. NEVER put your navigation at the bottom or the right side! There are two reasons you should not do this. First, a user doesn’t expect the navigation to be there so there is a learning curve for a user that is unnecessary. Second, if you user’s monitor is set to a lower resolution your navigation may not even show on their screen without them using the scrollbars. There are programmatic ways of solving this issue but they are generally cumbersome and create other issues with your website so you are better off avoiding this in the first place.Colors, Contrast and Consistency
The final usability issue I will mention is the use of colors. Have you ever been to a website that has white text on a yellow background? It is just plain hard to read and for some people impossible. Your best bet is to stick with dark colors on light backgrounds or white text on dark colors. Along with using the right colors you want to stay consistent with your colors. If you have a link that is blue and underlined in one place make sure all your related links are blue and underlined.
There are countless other usability issues as they relate to resolution, accessibility, file size and scalability. But those are topics for another day.