"A new study (July 2008) entitled 'Factors that Improve online experience' by Sathish Menon and Michael Douma from the Institute for Dynamic Educational Advancement offers key insights on the current state of online user experience.
The study reinforces known usability truths, sheds light on user perceptions but more interestingly points to disconnects between designers and users. The study surveyed perceptions, expectations and practices across various audiences and contrasted the results.
The key findings and what they mean:
1) Designers underestimate the thresholds for an effective site. Respondents consider a site “effective” when visitors are satisfied with respect to enjoyment, can find information somewhat easily, and never get lost in the site. By at least one point on a five-point scale, visitors have higher expectations for effectiveness than do designers. Nonprofit organizations believe that effective sites do not have “information gaps between what visitors want and what the site provides” and that visitors are at least “somewhat satisfied” with their sites. Designers should give greater consideration to overall effectiveness, thereby reducing the chance of failure for a user to find the information they seek.
Comment: Designers rely too much on a "they'll figure it out" approach and underestimate that users need transparent designs that support intuitiveness over flair.
2) Easy access to complete information is key to visitor enjoyment. All three survey groups believe that the ease with which visitors can find information and the ability to maintain orientation is critical to enjoyment. Both organizations and visitors believe that reducing the gap between what web sites provide and what visitors seek is critical to enjoyment. These variables explain 25% to 30% of the variance in visitor enjoyment; hence, ease of finding information is an important foundation for most sites.
Comment: The feeling of satisfaction is highly relevant to how well a visitor found the information they were looking for.
3) Good visual design and up-to-date information are critical. Over 80% of designers and organizations believe that good visual design is important. A healthy 50% of the visitors agree. Fully 80% of visitors and organizations believe that up-to-date information is very important. Only 60% of designers believe that to be the case. When budgeting for your project, don’t be overly seduced by fancy graphics and multimedia. Invest in strong, clear design and simple methods to quickly deliver current information to your visitors.
Comment: Of course, "fancy graphics" is open to interpretation as is "strong, clear design"; as is multimedia. For example, video or a flash demo may be exactly what you need to communicate your product or process." (Continued via Demystifying Usability) [Usability Resources]