What makes for a user-friendly website? Just like any other success recipe inquiry, this question is also very frequently asked and is never answered with a concrete working formula. Because there is no shortcut for website usability, though too many would opt for it.
Web usability is basically about making the website more comprehensible and easy-to-use. A whole discipline has evolved from this one core idea. Now it is more than a web design trend that you may or may not follow, but rather a must-have quality attribute for every website.
There are 2 main goals behind website usability;
- Save user’s time by making everything clear, easy and accessible.
- Increase satisfaction from the website experience and prevent negative response.
Ideally you need to conduct usability studies for your particular website with your target users, but there are also some general principles that are true for all websites.
Clearly state the purpose of your website.
This refers not only to the homepage but actually to any landing page on your website. Users should have a clear understanding of where they are and what they can expect from the website. The most basic solution is to have a comprehensible tagline and a logo. If you want to go further you may take advantage of some high quality visuals or even a background video that will reinforce the idea of the website.
Gently guide users through the website.
It is essential to help the user easily find what he is looking for with as little effort as possible. Try to be clear with your wording and labels, avoid using ambiguous titles and don’t make users think. Having a good information architecture and easy navigation is one of the key factors of good usability. If you have plenty of content that can be easier accessed by search then you should definitely have one as well.
Prevent errors and design “emergency exits”.
MailChimp’s error page.
Whatever error occurs on your website, it’s not user’s fault and even if it is, your user shouldn’t ever feel frustrated about it. So first of all you need to eliminate error-prone factors as much as possible. Good microcopy, visual hints and confirmation messages may prevent most of the data input errors and common mistakes. But there will still be errors that you simply can’t prevent, so it’s important to have well-crafted error pages that clearly state what has gone wrong and how exactly users can recover from it.
Keep users informed of the system status.
The first and certainly one of the most important usability heuristics suggested by Jacob Nielsen back in 1995. And it’s still valid today. Provide users with appropriate feedback on what is going on in a timely manner.
Build trust and credibility.
Treehouse social proof section.
Usability is not solely about technical stuff. If users don’t trust you none of your content or visual effects will make any difference. Make sure to have an “About us” section and introduce the team behind your website. Provide social proof: showcase your awards and recognition, media coverage and more importantly customer testimonials.
When designing web usability you need to remember that users do not see the interface the same way as you do as a UI designer. Keep in mind an image of a person who is impatient and over reactive, someone who lacks focus and attention to detail, who can get easily lost or tired. If you can design for this guy then you’re on the right track.
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