18 March, 2010

Questions That Help Assess Website Usability

The level of usability on your website takes on a vital role when we’re designing for the end-user. If your web application isn’t easy to use and interact with, then chances are the services and information you offer will be valuable to a rare few. Usability aims to relieve some of the things that can make your website complicated to use and simplifies the interface so that the users overall experience is a pleasurable one.

When designing with usability in mind you must make sure you test extensively, and consider the fact that what may be easy for you to interact with, may be difficult for others. It is about finding the right balance that will allow a wide variation of users to exit your website satisfied with the user experience.

Why and What to Ask?
We’ve put together several questions (you might not have heard of) that will help you enhance and assess the quality of your websites usability. Not every question may apply to your case, however, these questions are meant to help you to think a bit more from a users perspective.

How Can I Enhance the Usability of My Links?

I was a bit hesitant to start off with this very question, mostly because some believe that links don’t play any part in a websites usability factor. However, from previous testing and links being a definite part of user interaction, we know that we must find ways to make links as clear and concise as possible.

A user must clearly be able to point out a link within a sentence, paragraph, or anywhere else on the site for that matter. Many designers have solved this issue by adding small icons to links through CSS, and adding anchor text. Links that are associated with your websites navigation need to be given even more attention. A sites navigation can make or break the user experience. This is especially true with tweaking your website for maximum accessibility.

What is the Five Second Rule?

When you refer to a websites usability, you’ll sometimes come across the “five second” rule. Even though there may be several versions of the five second rule such as three or two seconds instead of five, the general idea is that a user should be able to digest or have a quick break down of what your website is all about, as well as what you have to offer within the first few seconds of their visit. Anything after that will more than likely result in disinterest and may eventually drive visitors away.

The homepage is key, since it is the first thing users will become acquainted with. What does this have to do with usability? Everything. If your website fails to catch the attention of the targeted user, then there simply will be seldom interest in using your website. The Five Second Test (usability testing tool) goes hand-in-hand with the five second rule.

Are the Titles and Headings Distinctive?

This benefits every site, however, if you run a blog/magazine then this will be one of the most important elements of your websites usability. You should make sure that your titles for sections and posts are easily distinguishable and clear. They must be easy to read, understand, and remember. When you style your headings it’s important that you don’t over-do-it and you take your time in selecting the right type of font. Bad titles and headings can make sure site look convoluted and somewhat distorted.

Is the Content on My Site Displayed in a Consistent Manner?

The information displayed on your website should be structured in such a way that it represents consistency. Content that isn’t structured will make your website look messy and unappealing.

For example, if your blog posts are all aligned to the left, you should make sure that every post is aligned to the left. It wouldn’t make much of any sense to have one post center aligned, the next to the left, and a few to the right. Users will be confused and their eyes will most likely end up hurting after trying to read the mess on your site.

Do Clickable Items Lure Me to Click Them?

Simply said, what’s the point of having an item you want users to click on if it doesn’t even seem clickable? For example, if you have image ads on your website you’d definitely want users to click on them. A simple and straightforward way to do this is to add a property such as a drop shadow to all of your image related ads through your CSS.

CSS-Tricks is a reasonable example of what we’re talking about. Check out the sidebar with the 125×125 ads, see how they interact and the size of the border around them. All of these factors contribute to luring you in to clicking on the ads. In such a way, elements you want users to click on should be undeniably clickable and are expected to contrast the rest of the content one way or another. Make it easy for your users, guide them a bit and you’ll see that they’ll respond much better to anything you “throw” at them.

Is the Entire Site as Functional as It Is Appealing?

What’s the point of having a website that has been aesthetically “perfected” if it isn’t nearly as functional as it looks? Your website should respond well to actions performed by the users. If the site can’t deliver quality functionality, then you’ve more than likely defeated the purpose of usability. True usability is more than just design, it’s function. We’re not inferring that you should place more emphasis on the back-end of your website, however, there should be a balance between the front/back end design. These two will always work together to ultimately create a much better user experience.

Does the Site Load Quickly?

Even though this question is obvious to some, it’s still something that should be included within this article. The speed of which your pages load can drastically contribute to the usability of your website. If your web pages fail to load quickly, then this can put a strain on the time users have to interact with your website. The faster your pages load, the better users are able to interact with your website, resulting in a much more appealing UX.