Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Obvious: Web Usability 101

A paper on developing usable websites ...

"... If you don’t nail your design vision in the five minutes before lunch, your site will fail. Without absolute clarity on what it means to ‘feel sharp’ you are doomed to create a soupy mess of compromise between design and function. What started out as a language issue - Motorola, lost in translation - will soon end up as a big fat usability issue.

Here’s the facts:

* Once it’s built, your web site needs to perform like an olympic athlete to grab your users’ attention. You will be competing against Manchester United and Scarlett Johannsen for their attention, not the competition next door.
* So you need to be compelling.
* It’s likely that at least 50% of users will arrive via your back door rather than your home page as a result of search activity. (Google has a lot to answer for!)
* So you need to meet their expectations fast, across every page.
* When they arrive, the vast majority of users won’t know you, trust you, or care for you. Their only assumption is that there’s a slim chance that you’re relevant to their needs... because Google told them so - but you’re just one click away from the ‘other’ 25,678,963 sites related to their search term.

So you need to breed confidence.

* Contrary to popular wisdom, they won’t scan your page in any logical sequence (we’re given to assume that the eye zig-zags down a page). Nope, the pupil does a crazy dance in a nanosecond and your first impression will be made.
* So you need to capture their attention.
* In addition, they’ll see your site like Mr Magoo. No sweeping panoramic views here (after all, they’re late for a meeting and their phone’s ringing). Just a squint. Then the mind’s made up.

So you need to channel their focus.

* If they do stick around then they’ll probably just wade in and muddle on through. No clean click paths, just a muddle. Whatever works to get them from A to B - usually via Z, F and M (in that order). If they make a purchase or sign up for stuff at the end of this process then it’s all credit to them, not you.

So you need to be simple to navigate.

* The point is that, setting aside your functional and design ambitions, you absolutely do not have a common user to create a beautiful web site for. Instead, you have a schizoid, multi-limbed, mythical creature who’s only consistent attribute is that she’s in a darn big hurry.

So, talk of building a ‘sharp’ site like Motorola isn’t really going to help at the planning stage.

What you need is a set of tools that will help non-technical people (including designers) and non-design-literate people (including technicians) create web pages that serve equally your corporate objectives and your user requirements.

A tough challenge, right? Well, not exactly. It’s all rather obvious - but a decent set of descriptive tools can help to ground us in the real, rather than the conceptual. So here’s our hitchhiker’s guide to web usability…
Clapham Junction: A Case Study
Usability (and it’s close relative Accessibility) is not a new discipline. In more established areas of design it’s a standard practice - so much so that good usability either goes without notice or is simply an expected part of an experience or a service.

An example is our rail network here in the UK. Although criticised for dubious service levels (anyone for ‘leaves on the track’ causing delays!?) they do have one thing nailed. The in-station user experience is pretty tight. So much so, I don’t really need to talk to any staff to get to where I need to be. All guidance information is rendered via a standard string of signs…deep blue and white, with a neat set of icons to supplement the verbiage.

Here’s the view from Clapham Junction in rush hour: a truly crazy place in need of good user experiences."    (Continued via Usability News, Squiz.net)    [Usability Resources]

Clapham Junction Stairs - Usability, User Interface Design

Clapham Junction Stairs

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