There is no doubt that good web design takes creative ability and reasonably good programming skills, and there is no shortage of truly stunningly attractive websites. But an important aspect of web design that is often overlooked is usability. The sad reality is that sometimes the most attractive sites are the most difficult to navigate and most inaccessible.
A good web designer can make an attractive site, but a great one can make a website that is fast loading, easy to use, and appropriate for its intended audience. What follows are some basic tips for website usability. This is only a starting point, and will not take the place of a full usability study.
- Accessibility – This term is often used specifically in relation to people with visual or auditory impairment, but accessibility actually applies to all people, since all people view and interpret information differently. The W3C provides accessibility guidelines., Important accessibility points include:
- Site load time
- Easy to read fonts; size and color should be readable and not blend with the background
- Limited use of animation (especially Flash), and none of it should flicker
- All images should have relevant ALT tags
- Critical Information – Your critical information is the site/company name, contact information, and navigation to primary content or products. Users’ eyes should be drawn to this information without being distracted by other less important elements.
- Navigation – Website visitors should be able to navigate anywhere on the site with a minimal number of clicks. Links should be regular text (css styles are fine), prominent, and easy to find. The top banner or logo should link to the home page. The site should also have a user- friendly search function.
- Text/Content/Products – The body or meat of your site should have clear headings, readable fonts, appropriately-sized images, unobtrusive ads, and direct users to the most important information or products first.
A good usability test does not have to be expensive or extremely time consuming. It can be as simple as finding some users, who have no stake in the site, sit down and navigate to certain information.
Have each user verbalize his or her actions, and record each click, scroll, and back track. It will soon become apparent how easy your site is to use or whether you need to go back to the drawing board.