Usability is a measure of how easy a website is to use. Everyone has had an experience where they have been frustrated by long flash introductions, or simply cannot perform simple tasks on a website.
A usable website is one that is simple to learn, encourages return visits and anticipates and responds to user errors.
There are many usability tools at a designers disposal - some of them are outlined in this article.
Since 1999 UK law has required that websites are accessible to Blind and Disabled users. Blind users are able to access the web using screen readers. Disabled users also have many tools available to them to help them use the web. But if a site is not built correctly it will be unusable to assistive technologies.
Guidance for web developers has also existed for some time in the Web Content and Accessibillity Guidelines issued by the W3C. Many web developers follow these guidelines but sadly many do not. When sourcing a web developer you should ask about their commitment to Accessbility and ensure they use, understand and follow the Web Content and Accessiblity Guidelines.
What are web standards? Web Standards are a series of internationally recognised protocols that designers, coders and browser manufacturers adhere to. With the web moving so quickly it is very important to find a designer with a commitment to web standards. More than that it is also a philosophy that supports efficient and maintainable websites.
Web Standards include a commitment to the code used behind the site, ensuring the site is maintainable and improving user experience. If you are unsure of whether a designer uses web standards ask. If they do not you are likely to be missing out on benefits provided by this commitment.
As yet there is no mark of Accreditation for a web designer. Until there is asking about Usability, Accessiblity and Web Standards is a good way to ensure that the designer you are employing is committed to the best practices on the web. If you fail to source a designer committed to this trio then you are failing to secure the benefits gained from these philosophies and techiniques.
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