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To Dot Or Not
(Web design for the rest of us!)

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Chapter 2
Usability: Yes, Users Rule!

Question: who decides if a Web site design is good or not?

Answer: the user!

Not the client/owner. Not the designer. Not even the Webby Awards people! If the site design isn't intuitively embraced by the people who visit your site, more than likely they just leave. It's that simple!

Very few visitors are going to suffer poor architecture, broken links, annoying animation, personal information forms inappropriately used as barriers, bad movies and streaming sound... all just to find out what our business hours are, whether your services are available in their area, or if your widget comes in avocado green.

As a site design client or the owner of a new Web site, you want to show the world your greatness, why you're great, what great things or services you provide. That's great! That's what your site's for. But, if you spend more time and dollars on that intro movie than making sure your visitors know how to get back to your home page, you've missed the point.

The sad truth is, nobody turns on their computer and logs onto the Web to watch bad TV (well, maybe to watch the latest "OddTodd" cartoon). The good news is, we're all looking for whatever it is we're looking for on the Web! So sites that are more "user friendly" and get us to what we're looking for in a "usable", intuitive and intelligent manner become the sites we depend on, revisit, or otherwise enjoy.

Let's put the "user" back in "user friendly"
Keeping the User or Visitor at the forefront of our methodology when building or designing a site is how we make sure our sites are user friendly. Not every site has the same demographic for their primary audience. If you're a recording artist, an entertaining site with streaming sound, maybe some Flash animation, and certainly discography is of primary importance. If you're a nonprofit working to have an affect on environmental policy, bells and whistles may get in the way of getting your message out.

If there's any unfortunate aspect to this, it's that trying to be a "user" of your site is difficult. At first blush it takes some background in usability studies and some experience in user testing to know how your visitors are likely to respond to your site's architecture, navigation, content, etc. And, once you've been "walked" through your new site by the designer that came up with all these great, cool, "jiggey" features, you "know" how to use the site and you're no longer a good test subject. As designers and site owners, we always have to quell that desire to be "cool" in favor of just being downright "usable".

The Web is a relatively new environment for disseminating information. But we're starting to get a pretty darn good idea of how to use this medium and what works or doesn't. A lot of testing and usability study has gone on at this point, and it's possible to use the knowledge of human user interface in developing Web interfaces to business and organizational information.

Content is King
Besides good architecture and navigation, sensible and intuitive "buttons" and free and clear access to information, content can make or break your site's degree of usability.

Certainly, content appropriate to the user's reason for visiting your site is critical. But, it's also important to understand that we use the Internet differently than we use a newspaper or a book. First of all, we hit Web sites kind of like we drive on freeways... fast! How much time do you really have to understand the message on a freeway sign or billboard? How much do you read at 65 mph?

Developing content that's compelling and readable on screen requires an understanding of how visitors read on the Web. Detailed writing may be appropriate in some areas, but for the most part, visitors just scan to find what they're tuned into.

Once we develop content, we see it from our own "knowledgeable" perspective. We see and/or know the details that are there. And, we assume visitors see what we see.

Well, here's some "user's" facts of life:

  • Users don't read! They scan — It's well documented. Of course there's the exception: when we find what we're looking for we'll slow down and read more closely... or print it out for later reading or to get lost in that stack of paper.
  • Users don't make optimal choices — Instead of analyzing all the options available before making an educated choice, they tend toward making the first reasonable choice. They most likely won't see those animated menus or "wow-effect" buttons... they'll just go where it makes sense at the time.
  • Users don't read directions, they muddle — Come on now, you already knew this, right?

So, build a great billboard!
Knowing user behavior is most of the battle, and target user audiences do have identifiable behaviors and feel most comfortable with identifiable software/hardware/Web site configurations. Let's take advantage of that when we design your site.



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Connie Seidel, Seidel & Assoc., and