Website usability is about how much brain power it takes to use your website. Easy to use websites are intuitive and clear; the minimum amount of brain power is required to work out how to make use of the website.
It sounds obvious, but think how many times you have waved your mouse around on a web page just to find out where the links are! A new visitor to your website will give it a few seconds, that’s all. If they don’t “get it” they’ll go away.
Website usability is closely related to accessibility in that accessible websites are much more likely to be usable. But usability applies to 100% of your visitors.
Don’t I want my customers to think?
Yes, of course, but get them thinking about your words and pictures, your products or services, not how to work your website. Have a website with poor usability is like having a shop with a door that’s hard to open.
Examples of usability issues
- Is it fast enough for dial-up or mobile internet connections? (also read: What Is Web Hosting?)
- Does the website make sense (especially the menus) before the images have all loaded?
- Does the text jump about as pictures load? (This annoys people; it’s like someone ruffling up your newspaper just after you start reading.)
Navigation (menus and other links)
- Do the links look like links?
- Can you navigate around the website easily using the menus?
- Do the menus and links take you where you expect to go?
- Is it obvious which page you are looking at?
- Is it obvious which section of the website you are in?
- Can you always easily get to important pages, such as “home” or “contact”?
Language and jargon
- Are things on your website explained in a way that your potential customers will understand easily?
- Are jargon terms explained when they are introduced?
- Does each page make sense on its own? Remember that visitors may not necessarily come in through your home page. This is one of the reasons frames are a bad idea.
- Do the headings and subheadings create a clean, clear structure to the page?
Text and colours
- Is the text easy to read, with good contrast and the right font size?
- Do the web pages print well, i.e. they don’t use up a lot of ink by printing banners and navigation, and the text and images all fit on the paper?
- Do they look like forms, or do you have to work it out?
- Is the function of the various fields clear?
- Is it obvious how you submit the form? We’re often surprised at how graphic designers often try to make buttons look like anything but buttons.
Do easy to use websites equal dull and boring?
In the past, “good website design” has often been measured purely in terms of visual impact (do you like the way it looks). Now that the internet has matured, the trend is to view “good website design” as a measure of how effectively the website gets information across to the visitor, which equates to an easy to use website.
Creating a usable website does not mean that your website must be dull or boring. It means that the designer puts usability at the top of their list while designing the site. It means that they stick to conventions rather than re-inventing the wheel, for example, links should be underlined, and buttons should look like buttons.
Easy to use websites generally have less graphic design in the “furniture” (the bits that are the same on every page). Your graphic design budget is better spent on first class, compelling images that help visitors understand your website’s content.
Look at some of the world’s top websites, Google, eBay and Amazon. Are they easy to use? Yes. Do they look awful? No. Do they make lots of money? Definitely!