This book is a classic for anyone working with web design. Nowadays the mantra for building great websites is “Content is King!”. Nonetheless a solid design and good usability is essential for any website’s success. If Google’s search engine were not so intuitive and straightforward to use, it would not nearly be as successful. When is a website successful you ask? That really depends on your objective and your target audience. If your website is supposed to sell products for example, an easy purchasing process will determine your success. But what is usability exactly? For many people it’s just another of those web-related buzzwords along with user experience, user journey and click path. In it’s essence, usability is how well something can be used. How easily can something be used (by users) to perform certain tasks and achieve specific goals?
Most likely each one of us has used a website before. We search through Google, we socialize through Facebook and we shop through Amazon and eBay (I know, I know, not everybody, but you get the picture). We probably have favorites websites that have a slick design or a super cool mouse-over functionality that lets you navigate through 12 levels simultaneously. It is important to distinguish between different kinds of website design. On the web, there are conventions – things that have worked several times before and are therefore quickly adopted by users. But who wants to do what everyone else has already done? Innovation in web design is a slippery slope. If you create an interface that is immediately understood by your users and gets the job done even quicker, great! If not, it’s good to stick to some of the known conventions that will make your task designing a website much easier.
An example of a website with great usability is www.amazon.com. The complex hierarchy of the products Amazon offers is packed away into several navigations (horizontal bars at the top, left side area with mouse-over) that somehow still manage to let you find what you’re looking for. In addition, Amazon’s most powerful tool, the search, is prominently placed at the top of every page. An example of a website with a poor usability is http://eil.com/. It’s not just the cluttered design and unflattering use of colors, but also for example that the navigation changes completely when you click on something.
The most important piece of advice I can give when design for a good usability is put yourself in the user’s position and also always relate to your own experiences as a web user. Think about what works well for you, what feels intuitive and right, where would you click to look for something.
Finally, use the comments to share some examples where you have experienced good or bad usability. Can you notice a trend which websites are better or worse at usability (search sites, product sites, corporate sites, communities, etc.)?