Website usability – designing websites for users.
As designers, it is often all too easy to get wrapped up in the technical aspects of our sites, rather than designing with the end user in mind. ‘Human-centric computing’ revolves around the use of technology, encouraging designers to design, test and ultimately create programs focused on user needs and requirements.
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Navigation is key. Scientific testing has shown that humans don’t make optimal decisions by carefully reading through the site and working out where we would have to go to find what we’re looking for. Instead, we simply make a fast decision based on the first thing we find which looks remotely like what we might need to click on! So what does this tell us?
What use is navigation that people don’t understand?
Try to make your links descriptive.
Our aim is to help our users make those optimal choices, to begin with, to avoid confusion and time-consuming searching. This is particularly important for e-commerce shops. A user cannot buy what they cannot find!
An on-site search facility is always a good option. Many users prefer to simply use search boxes, rather than navigate their way through the site using the navigation you provide. It also gives you a useful fallback if a user simply cannot manage to find what they are looking for! They should be clearly positioned.
I find it helpful if I can narrow down my search to a particular category, making the search results more comprehensible. E-commerce shops with only a small number of items available could even use a drop-down menu to further simplify the process.
Navigation should also allow users to see where they are within the site structure.
Again, this makes it clearer, particularly within a site with many sections and sub-sections to navigate through. However, this feature is also useful on small sites and should not be underestimated. If your links are taking users away from your site, let them know. It can be confusing when you suddenly arrive at a completely different page from the one you left. It can leave your users feeling like they must have made a mistake somewhere along the way when in actual cases this is perfectly ok.
When you’re designing your site, it may seem simple and easy to understand. Chances are you know it and its content back to front and round and round by the time it is completed, but your users are coming to it for the first time. Try to see it from the perspective of a new user, who may not realise that the ‘contact us’ link for example is situated at the bottom of all the text on your home page and is just out of view when you initially open the page, so all you have to do is scroll down to find it. They won’t know this!
Find yourself some guinea pigs; watch them and how they approach your site. You should soon be able to tell if they are encountering any problems! It is often difficult to evaluate your own work, and a second opinion is invaluable when testing the usability of your website.