Prioritizing Web Usability for Best Results

Prioritizing web usability is becoming increasingly important as time passes, largely in part to what’s known as the “law of increasing ubiquity of computing”. What do I mean by that pretentious term? Simply, as time goes by, more people will increase their use of digital services, and more people will be born into a technological society and embrace them by default, eventually becoming the majority populace as well. So, here we sit in 2013, where even grandma and grandpa shop on EBay, and watch CSI on Netflix.

Even great aunt Becky has a smartphone she probably checks her finances and makes orders over, and she remembers a time when touch tone telephones were something rich people had. Rotary phones for the win! So, the point is, nowadays, web usability is damn important, because everyone, repeat everyone, is using the web for more and more things. This means that where once it was a minority of tech-savvy people using these things, now you have to design for the general populace, and oh boy does that change the ballgame!

So, what are some things to bear in mind when prioritizing web usability? Let’s look at some highlights the likes of Jakob Nielsen have been so evangelical about for the past few years.

#1 – Be Concise in Writing

The truth of it is, about forty three percent of the American populace reads on an eighth grade level. This isn’t because they’re stupid or uneducated, but reading proclivity is something that, like most other skills, diminishes from lack of use. Busy, hard working people don’t have a lot of time for diverse reading in their free time, and are too tired to not just come home, slump into the chair and turn the TV on.

So, the thing to take away from this is to write in a high-quality eighth grade level in your site, unless your demographic is specifically going to be “uber-literates” as it were.

#2 – Diminished, Text Ads

In your advertising on your site, be it support ads or advertising for things within your site (as well as ads on others’ sites for outreach), text ads are a better idea. Visual ads, flashy animated banners and flash ad systems just annoy users. Oh, they’ll notice it, go out of their way not to click it, and may even block it from their browser.

Text catches the eye without being rude and tasteless.

#3 – Standardization

Oh, around 2000 or thereabouts, there was an outcry against a movement by governments to force standardization of website designs, naming schemes and visual templates, and everyone railed against it. While letting them force that tight of a standardization set probably would have ended poorly (and so it’s a good thing we all rebelled) … standardization is still going to be important. People are used to using other sites before they found yours, so use common label wording, layouts and navigation patterns. It’s ok to have a distinct aesthetic, but not at the expense of being functional.

Along with this, keep fonts and colors down to a handful of schemes. Just because CSS lets you have a thousand schemes for this in a single page doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to actually do that!

#4 – No Splash Pages

People need to stop doing this. It wastes bandwidth, forces additional navigation and accomplishes nothing. Even big companies are still using splash pages. They make mobile navigation a chore, and it’s easy for users to become annoyed and bail thinking “well this is a placeholder page, or it’s broken”. The user has already found your site. Splash pages just … do nothing useful. Stop that.

Prioritizing web usability is so important now, so take this advice to heart and hold it dear, because if you mess this up, it’s going to be a disaster these days. It’s only going to increase in the future.

Jessica Miller
Jessica is the Lead Author & Editor of UsabilityLab Blog. Jessica writes for the UsabilityLab blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to usability.
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