A Usable Web For All: Usability

By McDonald. T | Date: 12th November 2017

As the web continues to grow more and more people begin to depend on it. Everyone is using the net for all sorts of things including using it as the new high street. We can shop online, socialise online, book holidays online, study for our degree online; in fact, you name it and there is more than likely a website for it. For this reason, it is good to know if a website is reaching the maximum target audience.

This blog is in two parts. In this blog, part one, I will cover usability and in part two I will cover accessibility.

Make a site user friendly to maximise the audience and audience retention. Have you ever been to a site and left it quickly or stayed for hours at a site? Why did you do that? People go to a site for many reasons including: looking for information; to purchase something; or to use a service. With this in mind if any of us went to a shop and it did not have what we wanted we would leave, correct? What if we went to a shop and it had the things we wanted, but we could not easily find them, again, we would leave, correct? The same goes for a website, if a user cannot easily find what they are looking for regardless of whether the website has the things the user desires or not they would leave (Nielsen. J, 2012). In other words, can the user easily navigate the site and find what they want first time and without training? Nielsen and Norman call this survival of the easiest.

Shopfront in street

In order to make a site user friendly think of its landing page, first page the user sees when going straight to the domain name, as the shop window. Allow me to elaborate, at the time of writing this, I volunteer at Cancer Research in Newmarket on the high road. If you where to walk past the shop and look at the window display you could instantly see that we have women’s clothes, men’s clothes, children’s clothes, household items and toys. You could say that our shop window is our landing page. With this in mind, think of your landing page as the shop window and ask yourself if a complete stranger with no idea of the services were to visit the website, would they be able to tell what the webpage provides within seconds? In the Cancer Research shop someone can easily find products and the checkout. Furthermore someone could easily get to know the layout of the store and locate items easily in future visits. Can the users of a webpage easily recognise the navigation and find items or services and quickly become familiar with the layout of the website (Nielsen. J, 2012). In addition, how easy is it for the users to find contact details or terms and conditions? If a user encounters too many errors while trying to navigate they will leave the site. Moreover, how easy is it to find something on the website and locate it again a few days later? Making a website easy to navigate, making links obvious, keeping it free from errors and making it easy to see what services are available will likely keep retention and maximise the audience.

Continuing on from this theme, all mobile devices need to be considered. Is the website usable on a mobile phone, tablet computer or data pad? This question needs to be asked right at the beginning of the design stage because if a developer neglects to recognise the importance of the mobile device the webpage is likely to be missed by a huge number of potential users. When considering mobile devices certain things need to be in mind such as links; links on a mobile device will not have a hover facility and the width of the site becomes essential. For instance, if a webpage on a desktop is too large for the screen, the user will see this as a negative. Likewise, if a webpage does not fit on the screen of a mobile phone or takes too long to load the user will likely leave without accessing the site services.

Easy to use navigation and lay out coupled with designing for mobile devices and avoiding errors will improve the usability of a website. However, there is still the need to make the site’s services obvious to the user or they will leave. Checking ease of use should become second nature to anyone wishing to develop a successful website.

Nielsen. J, 2016, ‘Usability 101: Introduction to Usability’, Nielsen and Norman Group [Online] available at https://www.nngroup.com/articles/usability-101-introduction-to-usability/ (Accessed on 11/11/17)

Next blog: Accessibility

If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.


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