5 Considerations for Website Usability

What makes a great website? Some might say it’s the number of visitors and average page views, but others would say it’s all in the design. Of course, the two are related – users revisit sites which contain useful content and also those that have great user interface and design that relates to their expectations.

Just like in real life relations, reliable designs become stronger over time, reflecting the bonds between the constituent elements. These designs are clear for everybody, including both first-time and daily visitors.

Make your visitors’ first experience a fruitful one and keep them coming back by considering these five steps for optimum website usability.

Create visual hierarchies

A great way to make web design immediately useful is to create clear visual hierarchies. No reinventing the wheel here: It’s all about prominence, grouping and nesting, the visual triad that we parse every day with most websites as well as print newspapers and magazines, whether we’re fully aware of it or not.

The more important a heading is, the more you may make it stand out in your navigation. Grouping together similar elements which are logically connected will also make sense visually’ make sure that the relationships between all the elements of your design are reflected as such within all pages. Nest related elements together and present them under a common roof, underlined by a useful title that adds to your design strategy.

Users need guidance when browsing websites and if your design doesn’t organize and prioritize the information, if everything looks equally important, visitors attention is lost and away they click. You know better than anybody which elements are most important for your brand, product or service, so identify them, present them in a clear structure and save visitors the trouble of having to think too much about how to navigate your site.

Make the obvious REALLY obvious

What’s your first thing you do when you land on a website? You click on something. Since absolutely every user does this action, it’s quite important to have clear info on what’s clickable, which are links and where is your website’s search section.

Remember that what is obvious for you as a designer might be confusing for the average user. Arrow graphics underlining a search button become puzzling if they point away from the search section; colored titles can easily be seen as links and the other way around if there’s no obvious differentiation between them;images may be mistaken with banner ads; and so on.

None of the above is an absolute design disaster, but every extra click for the user is a flaw for any impatient visitor and gets a thumbs down for your website in the long run.

Make a quick first impression

Eye tracking usability tests confirm over and over again that users decide whether a website is worth their stay or second visit based on an extremely brief scan of those pages. Knowing this, designers can design for quick intake of information based on eyetracking principles as follows:

  • People look at pages in an ‘F’ pattern – they read downwards, from the left, and scan across at a couple of points on the page.
  • The right side of the page is therefore rarely viewed on first glance.
  • Pictures, video and other non-text objects may distract first-time visitors or they may look too much like advertising,which gets tuned out.

Consider these principles and make sure that your navigation, key stories to be read or top products are clearly emphasized and not confused with other page elements.

Take advantage of existing conventions

Many designers want to be creative – creating the new, different and extraordinary is what they live for. It’s hard to stick to the conventional. But in web design, the tried and true still works, and that’s what users are expecting.

Everyday websites, just like universal traffic signs, are built on conventions that work no matter where you come from or what language you speak. Although they do get refined or slightly change in time, some web conventions which are most recognizable are visual symbols. The shopping cart, the magnifying glass, and, most recently, social sharing icons are all elements any designer can incorporate to give users elements they can instinctually identify with and can use without any effort.

Get rid of all the clutter

The high-end enemy of clean design is visual clutter. Too many banners, fonts, headlines, images, links, and bright colors are simply too demanding for users’ eyes and minds. The principle of “keep it simple, stupid” most definitely applies to web design and will make for happy visitors every time.

The best way to assess your website’s usability? Test, test and test again. Try different layouts and designs on friends, colleagues and family and consider testing live with two (or more) variations of your website side-by-side. What are your favorite usability tips? Please tell us about them in the comments.

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