3 timeless keys for web usability

August 24, 2014 4:14 am Published by 2 Comments

“Don’t make me think” is the first law of usability, Steven Krug’s makes it clear in Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited. After reading the book, I realize that, ultimately, web usability is about common sense and how to take advantage to them to help people to achieve their goals easily. It relies on our perceptions and judgements shared by nearly all people naturally. Therefore, achieving usability is to make things easier for users to perceive, to understand, and to make decisions. Sorting from the book, I come up with three keys of usability and UX design in web, and I believe firmly these three principals are unshakable despite of the rapidly changing world of web.

1. Innovation is great, but convention is your better friend 

Following the conventions—the widely used or standardized design patterns—is one of the best way for user to grasp everything easier. However, you must have been tempted to reinvent the wheel instead of following the conventions, because we all want to come up with a design that is original innovative and unique, and we feel like that’s what we are hired to do. We have to keep in mind that conventions become conventions for a good reason. They all started life as someone’s bright idea, and if the idea works well, others will replicate it until it’s widely shared by almost everyone.The use of conventions is a consistent use of visual or technical method within a website that is almost universally accepted. This means that user don’t have to constantly figure out what things are and how they work as they go from site to site. In a way, conventions enculturate users to pick up a behaviour pattern on web usage, and they “feel like home” when they see things that are familiar to them.

I came across this helpful article by that lists some web conventions, they might sound obvious but are essential for making a good website. Five of them are listed in the following, for more detailed reading please visit this link.

  • Your logo should be at the top of the page… most likely on the left
  • Your logo should link back to your homepage
  • Links are underlined and in a different colour than the text
  • Visited links are of a different colour than other links
  • The navigation stands out and is consistent throughout the site

So should you be innovating or following conventions? Krug has one cogent advice—innovate only when you have a better idea, otherwise take advantage of conventions.

2. Design for scanning, not reading

We often create our sites under the assumption of people are going to pore over every details on the site, including our carefully crated text, just like how you may have skipped the previous paragraph and went direct to the bolded headers. Yes, we might not be aware, but this is what we all do. We don’t read pages, we scan them. Most of the time, we are on a mission when we browse for information. We tend to move quickly to look for fractions that match our interests or the task at hand, the rest of it, no matter how much heart the designer/developer have put in it, is irrelevant.

  • Keep the noise down
    Avoid visual noises and minimize distractions by an organized and lean layout.
  • Slim down the text
    Omit needless words and keep paragraphs short.
  • Create visual hierarchies
    Make sure the appearance of the elements on the page—all of the visual cues—accurately convey the relationships between each other.
  • Format text to support scanning
    Use plenty of headings, bullet the lists, and highlight key terms.

3. Give mindless choices that don’t require thoughts

Usability professionals say that it shouldn’t take the user more than three clicks to get to his or her wanted result within one site. When this measurement seems a valid metric, Krug says the one click is actually more crucial. Imagine you are looking for an certain item online, clear categorization will take the user a fe clicks but get to their item without any effort. On the other hand, if the options you provide

However, some choices really are not that simple to make. If you have to give user some difficult choice, make sure you provide a right amount of guidance. The guidance works best in the following three conditions:

  • Brief: The guidance should contain the smallest amount of information that will help the user
  • Timely: The guidance is placed s the user encounter it exactly when he or she needs it
  • Unavoidable: The guidance is formatted in a way that the user will notice it for sure

These three keys might not be and should not be totally new to you. We all have basic awareness and ability to judge which most people are expected to share naturally, even if we can not explain why. As a designer or a developer, or both, we are more conscious about these instincts and should always take full advantages of them when making decisions on visuals and functions of our sites.

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This post was written by keli


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