Usability Factors for Web Applications

When a visitor arrives on a website, the site has a very short time to convince that person to stay. If it looks like a muddle, or it’s not clear what the site is about, then chances are that the visitor will bounce away to somewhere more ‘useful’ for their purposes. Here are some factors to consider when designing or re-designing a website.

The navigation should be clear and consistent. Bear in mind the 3 click rule which indicates that any page on a website should not be more than 3 clicks away from the home page. Clarity is paramount. If the visitor gets lost, the user experience quotient is diminished. There should be a clear visual hierarchy. This means that it should be clear to the visitor which categories or topics fall into which parent pages. Sometimes this is difficult when it’s not obvious where to put a topic. But try to make it as intuitive as possible. And always show them the way out, that is, always have the home page click able with one click from wherever the user is.

The approach is the opposite to the design of casinos in Las Vegas. Here, the way out is signposted as per regulations, but it is not generally obvious. The idea is to keep people wandering around and gambling by making it difficult to leave. This works for casinos but won’t work for your website.

The concept of ‘visual accordance‘ is relevant here. This is the idea that the visual design of an object (whatever that might be) should give some indication of how to use it. An example of this would be the shopping cart icon on an ecommerce site. The shopping cart image indicates to users that this is where you go to fulfill the purchase.

Utility and usability
Try not to get confused between the notions of ‘utility‘ and ‘usability‘. Utility refers to the ability to do lots of useful things on a site. Usability refers to how easy it is for users to actually do those things. Usability shows how likely the user is to actually carry out the desired tasks. A visitor is less likely to make contact if that contact is hard to find. A visitor is less likely to buy if they are interrupted along the purchase path. For ecommerce in particular, once a visitor is engaged in the buying process, that process should be pared back to the minimum. Requests for extra details will only result in user frustration. And they won’t return without a compelling reason.


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