Usability and Web Design
Unit 1, Section 4, Overview
Before moving on to the rest of the content head over to the Unit 1, Section 4, assessment page to answer a few quiz questions.
In this section, we began to tie usability to the art and science of web design—in essence, taking the scientific process we explored in the first three sections and allowing the information priorities discovered to form the initial information architecture for our merging websites.
Okay, let’s establish some guiding assumptions before we begin. First, people visit websites because they are looking for something and they want to find it as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Second, usability formally defines the three primary factors that characterize this information seeking experience. Is it effective, efficient, and satisfying?
Third, during the information-seeking process, how usable systems have clear information scents that allow web users the highest return on investment, or ROI, in terms of their time and effort?
Fourth, a well-designed information architecture establishes strong information sense that makes it easy on users to find what they’re looking for.
Fifth, websites certainly are one of the primary ways people of all ages seek information in the 21st Century.
Lastly, therefore, websites should be made to be as highly usable as possible.
Conceptually, usability is easy to understand. Design websites with the information people want and in the way they want it. The problem, however, is that what is actually effective, efficient, and satisfying is extremely subjective.
This is why websites must understand who their primary users are and who they want their users to be. Once this is done, then you can work with them to figure out what they want and priority order. Now designing, developing, and maintaining a highly usable site is much easier to do.
So let’s break this process down into specific steps so that we can apply usability in our web designs from the very beginning and in a systematic, scientific fashion.
Step 1. Identify your primary users. How do we do this? You should use existing site statistics and analytics, if they exist. You want to look at marketing reports and market analyses for who should be or who you want to be using your site. What are the current products and services that are most purchased or used? These users, the ones who are already experiencing some level of positive usability on your site, are a great place to start in terms of identifying information needs and preferences.
[Step 2.] Now that you’ve identified your potential users, you now can work with them to develop a primary list of high priority information needs and site features. Unit 3 will go into detail in how to do this analysis in a comprehensive and valid fashion. The goal here is to create a feature checklist which reflects the user task matrix, which should be used as a checklist when designing or refining your preliminary information architecture. You want to establish the top five prioritized lists of information needs or features for each user group.
Step 3 involves the other side of the equation. Which are your organizational goals and priorities for the site? What are they in priority order? For example, sales, events, advertising, a professional online experience, et cetera. You will need to include these as a separate set of goals when using your feature checklist to create your site’s information architecture.
Step 4 is implementing what you learned in Step 3 into a preliminary information architecture and wire frame map. The #1 highest priority of usability design standard to keep in mind is referred to as prioritization of functionality, where the most relevant and important features are prioritized.
This means that on your website home page, your highest priority information, features, and services must be placed front and center. This helps establish a strong information scent to the most sought after and used features on your site. Do not make users have to work hard to access these features.
Step 5 involves the second highest usability design standard, which is compatibility. This means that users already have expectations on how your site will function, given contemporary design standards, et cetera. Remember, on average, users usually spend 99% of their time on other websites and form user expectations in terms of features available, location of those features, and how those features function, et cetera. This includes navigation, location of navigation, control of, amount of, and usage of media and general look and feel, the header, footer, images and organization and delivery of content. Being compatible allows users to seek information on auto mode, using previously formed schema or if-then statements that allow them to become familiar with your site quickly.
So, in summary, we need to keep our eye on the goal. Our information architecture should reflect the usability process we have discussed in Sections 1 through 3.
Step 1. Design around user goals and higher priority information features and services.
Step 2. Remember E-E-S in all that you do, which helps define your user’s experience on your site. Most important and frequently used information must be placed up front on the home page and take precedence in you designs.
Step 3. The two fundamental usability design standards to keep in mind are prioritization of functionality and compatibility. Important information must drive the navigation and overall information architecture of your site. Ensure that you are following the general norms of other sites as they are aware your users are spending most of their time, and they expect your site to be, in general, the same way.
Step 4 is continuous small-scale iterative testing and design as users and their preferences will change over time.
In addition, what we learn from user or advisory groups will be subjective and may not generalize gracefully to the general population. You must constantly collect data to make sure this is not happening.
We will discuss all of this in Units 2 and 3. That’s it for Unit 1 and Section 4.
I’m delighted that you have joined me. Please remember to complete the review questions, recommended readings, answer the discussion questions, and do the hands-on exercise. Look forward to seeing you in another module soon.