Usability Efficiency

Users want usability – How to give them what they want

A website that simply does not work is clearly not usable in the traditional sense. But what is it that makes a website ‘usable’? Usability is the simple idea that people come to your website for a reason, and usability is the measure by which they are able to achieve their goal–in as little time as possible. As much as we’d like others to come and spend an afternoon on our site and faithfully read all the content we worked so hard on, the fact is that people just don’t spend much time on websites. They want to get in and out as quickly as possible.

Fast Information > More Information

Data from Tony Haile at ChartBeat shows that 55% of users spend 15 seconds or less on your website. Why so little time? As people have grown more and more comfortable integrating the internet into every part of their life, they’ve become much more adept at filtering out the non-essential and zeroing in on the information they really came for.

The information they may want is an address for your business, the hours that a restaraunt is open, or a blog post on how to fix a buggy computer. So, in more than half of the cases out there, you have 15 seconds or less to give your users what they want or risk them just moving on.

Know your Audience

Before you can make a usable site tailored for your needs, you need to know your audience. What kind of business do you run? Do you have a physical store location for all your sales? Are you a consultant that thrives on private appointments? Knowing your audience is key to designing a useful site. That way you can prioritize information in a way that is accessible and efficient.

Once you know your audience, you need to clearly define your goal. Do you want more people to call you to set up an appointment? Do you want to engage your audience more across social networks? Once you set a goal for your website, you can move on to designing your site around achieving this goal.

High Design ≠ High Usability

A slick website is a great start, but the design needs to be a means to an end, not the other way around. The design needs to complement and emphasize your goals on the site, rather than getting bogged down in unnecessary flourishes and information overload. Flat, responsive design is your friend, whose wide and open spaces are a great way to frame the important bits of content and information on your site.

One of the most important elements on a usable web page is the Call To Action (CTA). CTAs are buttons that call on site visitors to take a certain action that satisfies your goals, like ‘Start Today’, or ‘Sign Up Now’. The key to a good call to action is giving your user just enough information to encourage them to take action, but not so much that they lose interest halfway through the pitch. CTAs should be featured prominently throughout your website to maximize user goal conversion.

Keep it Simple

Any website can be made usable, but every site’s usability depends on a tailored approach to your particular needs. First, you need to identify your audience and then formulate goals specific to your audience and the aims of your business. From there, you need to use a design that looks clean and professional, framing the necessary information without clutter or confusion. Employ a liberal use of Calls to Action that dovetail with your website goals, but beware of making too hard a sell. Finally, consider adding functionality that may expand your ability to meet your goals, such as an integration with your CRM or a newsletter signup.

If you’re interested in learning more about usability in web design, I’d highly recommend taking a look at Don’t Make Me Think, by Steve Krug. You can find his blog here, and follow him at @skrug on Twitter.



Responsive Web Design, a Thank You

As is often the case with the adoption of new technologies, responsive web design was not the creation of a single person, but rather an entire community as is often the case. Although mobile devices were being increasingly used to access the internet, the internet and websites more broadly were having a tough time keeping up. You might recall early attempts at mobile design and awful mobile-only versions of websites.We do. *shudder*. Many in the web design community could see that the way people used the internet was changing, knowing there had to be a better way. Who were they, and what did they do?

The W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) was one of the biggest players in bringing about responsive design and the use of media queries for CSS3. Actually, they had discussed the idea of media queries since the mid-90s, but it was only after the rise of widespread mobile devices around 2010 that media queries were useful. Other organizations that assisted the wider adoption of responsive design were Mozilla and Google, when they added CSS3 and media query support to their browser platforms.

Now that the rules were in place for responsive web design, the world needed people to actually create webpages using the technology. There were a number of important contributors to early responsive web design, many of them acting as advocates for the technology and its benefits. I would be remiss to not make note of Ethan Marcotte and his seminal article on responsive web design, published in May 2010 in A List Apart. Marcotte is in many respects credited with the coining of the term “responsive web design.” He drew inspiration from architectural concepts and the need for an internet that is adaptive to a diversity of needs. In the article, he identifies the key problem when devices evolve faster than the web design. This, he argues, is the fundamental reason why we needed an adaptive design philosophy. This way, no matter the device used, the web design is responsive to whatever the future might hold.

Now that we have responsive web design, and know who to thank, let us say wholeheartedly, “Thank You!” It truly is an honor to be able to participate in the creation of a new philosophy and concept. It is an experience made real one line at a time.