Usability - The Forgotten Pillar of Good Design

Current trends in Web Design are rightly championing Accessibility and building websites to universally recognised standards. This article seeks to give a brief overview of the importance of Usability and suggests that there are many reasons why it is more important than building an Accessible site.

A quick recap

Pervious articles have discussed the merits of building Accessible sites. Not only will you ensure that more or less all users are able to access your site, you will also improve your search engine visibility. Secondly building sites to universally recognised standards will ensure that the site displays consistently across a range of platforms. It often comes as a surprise that there are other browsers and operating systems in use. Building to standards will help ensure that the site works on most if not all of these.

Usability - still very important

Whilst this article does not seek to disregard Accessiblity (far from it) it seeks to reinstate Usability as an extremely important element of designing a successful website. So what is Usability?

In essence Usability is a measure of how easy the website is to use for all users. This means some thought needs to go into an analysis of usability. First who are your audience? Profile all of your audience, not just tech-savvy 20 somethings. If a Grandmother in Scotland cannot use your site and she is an example of the typical demographic of your website then your site is not usable. Secondly how are your audience using your site? Identify the most important tasks that need to be completed. The internet gives unrivaled information on how people use it so get hold of log files and analyse what people are doing and how they are doing it.

Usablity should inform design

The web is primarily a visual media. If users are unable to find something or cannot complete a task it is likely that this a failure of design. Good designers will assess how users are interacting with a website and learn from mistakes. Poor designers will see the site as an expression of their art and never change it.

User group testing and feedback - the holy grail of Usability

It seems a simple idea that Users are the most important thing in website production. Sadly this is too often forgotten and users are forced to accept poor design. It cannot be stressed enough that gathering feedback is invaluable to improving and maintaining a website’s effectiveness. It is possible to stress test assumptions with user groups whether it be friends and colleagues or an independent User Group. If the results from the User Group are successful then you should see this as a validation of the success of your assumptions and a worthwhile investment. If the results are not successful then you are given an opportunity to correct design deficiencies before real problems arise.

A website built to International Standards and adhering to Accessibility standards is likely to perform well in Search Engine rankings. But what use is it if users are unable to use it once they arrive? The user is always the most important part of any website and as such usability must be too.


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