We’ve talked about the “pretty” things, typography, colour and imagery – but the reality is in our business that none of these pretty things mean much of anything if the site we design is unusable. But what does that mean? What really is usability? And why is it important?
Let’s start with the basics.
1. Able to be used
2. In web design, the Nielsen Norman Group defines the action of usable as such: “Usability is a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use.”
Sounds easy enough, yeah? Not so fast…to get usability right in web design is a deceptively tricky notion, especially on site projects that can contain hundreds of linked pages to which we must get an end-user to, as needed, as quickly as possible, and without losing them along the journey.
Specifically, in our line of work, it is the ability to identify to an end-user what services our client offers, how to contact them and why they should do so as clearly and quickly as possible. If we cannot achieve this, we run the very real risk of losing the end-user to our client’s competition and losing the client to another marketing firm in the long run.
Usability Supports a Clear Visual Flow
The flow of a design should follow a hierarchy as it moves from top to bottom. A clear hierarchy is a definite contributor to usability insofar as that hierarchy can (and should) align to conventions in web design. And what I’m referring to here is the placement of important site features such as the firm title (or logo), contact information (specifically a phone number or other actionable item) and the main navigation, which generally appear above or over a site’s banner imagery.
It should be noted that while these conventions of design can give the perception that many of our sites look the “same”, it is important to remember that end-users have an expectation as to where certain elements should appear within a page and when we don’t give them what they want (or need), they may go to competitor’s site that does adhere to the basic conventions for hierarchal placement.
Minimal Versus Simple – The Myth Busted
The other misconception of the momentum toward user-experienced, usable design is that there is a push to minimalist design. What’s important to understand is that minimalist design is a style that doesn’t always result in ease of use – so, what we’re really pushing for is simplicity of design.
Simplicity allows us to take a deeper, “whole-istic” approach to design to focus on the experience of our end-users through clear functionality within the layout and specifically to anticipate the next action the end-user may take. And we should all remember that just because something is minimalist does not mean that it’s simple. Quite the contrary, minimalist design can totally ignore the needs of the end-user or their next action in deference to scarcity. Which, makes the site unusable and brings us back to main the main issue where we are losing end-users.
For example, the hamburger menu (the little three-or-four line icon): is a minimalist style but without some sort of corresponding text may not have the “brand recognition”(yet) to support itself without some sort of related text to promote engagement. A simple design will include the corresponding text along with the icon to ensure that the end-user clearly knows and understands the purpose of the function, thereby simplifying it and making it usable.
How to Win Friends and Influence People Through Good Usability
As brilliantly illustrated in the original FindLaw whitepaper, ‘8 Hidden Motivators that Influence Decisions’, as much as we may wish it otherwise, consumers are driven to decisions based more on emotion than on logic. This however, affords us a unique opportunity to use the fact that people are generally impatient and want easy answers to our advantage when it comes to designing for usability.
By crafting designs that focus on a cleaner interface, clarity of the client’s brand message and identified visual structure, we have the power to have a positive impact on the end-users’ experience. Which, in turn, builds on-site trust followed by site conversion.
It’s important to also recognize that designing for usability – and focusing on cleaner interfaces –should also have a positive impact on the availability of a site, including server uptime and mobile responsiveness. And remembering that we may be asking an end-user to potentially use personal data bandwidths to access our sites. The less clarity there is on a site the slower the upload time and the more opportunity we have to lose that potential retainer for our clients.
Wrapping it Up
If there are any quick statements that encompass the goals of design for usability and the end-user, it would be this:
- Usability should not be an afterthought in web design
- The focus should be on the end-user’s experience not solely on the business goals of the client
- The design should take shape based on the perspective of how it will be used by the end-user
- User-centric design understands the emotions, motivations and beliefs that drive choice
Keeping these things in mind we can continue to push our work to continue to craft better and better online experiences for our clients and our client’s end-users.