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Design | November 9, 2023 | By Monika Halsan

Usability design in websites

Today is World Usability Day, and I wanted to take the opportunity to explore usability design in websites. Most of us have visited our fair share of poor sites. Those with links that send you everywhere yet nowhere, popups that disrupt the experience, navigation that confuses you, and so on. Good websites do none of that.

Usability is a crucial factor in effective web design. In this post, I explore what usability is and how it relates to user experience and accessibility, as well as usability principles to consider when making a website.

Developer looking at traditional wireframes.

What is World Usability Day?

First of all, World Usability Day is an annual event that celebrates and promotes the importance of usability and user-centred design in various products and services, with a particular focus on digital technology. It serves as a global platform to come together to raise awareness about the significance of usability in creating effective and user-friendly solutions.

The primary intention is to advocate for user-centred design, highlighting its role in improving user experience, and creating a more accessible and efficient digital world.

Usability design in websites: What is it?

Website usability is all about making websites easy and efficient for the people who use them, focusing on user needs rather than complex design or own preferences. We should strive for simple designs that put the user and their expectations first.

Usability is essentially all about finding the right balance between clarity and utility.

Usability vs user experience

Usability is one of four main segments of user experience (UX), accompanied by value, adoptability and desirability. While UX strives to ensure user satisfaction throughout the entire user journey (functionality, expectations, emotions and perception), usability focuses on a user’s ability to effectively achieve a specific goal when interacting with a product.

User experience encompasses all facets of a user’s engagement and their overall perception of a company’s products, services, or brand.

Usability vs accessibility

Usability and accessibility are related yet distinct concepts. Where usability focuses on enhancing the experience for all users, accessibility is primarily concerned with usability for those with disabilities.

Usability thus encompasses a broader spectrum of techniques that can benefit all users. I do recommend considering both concepts for any web design, though.

Designing for website usability

Website usability can be broken into five fundamental principles, each playing a crucial role in ensuring an effective and user-friendly online experience:

  • Clarity: How easy is it to perform the desired action? Clarity focuses on meeting visitors’ specific goals without distractions or confusion.
  • Availability: How easily can users access a website? Factors like the web hosting platform and device compatibility influence a site’s availability.
  • Recognition: How quickly do users understand how to interact with a site? Recognition aims to minimise the length of the learning curve that users undergo when navigating a new website.
  • Credibility: How credible does the website look and feel? Demonstrating credibility through transparency and clear communication enhances user trust in the website.
  • Relevance: Is the content relevant? This complex aspect assesses whether the content on a website resonates with the user.

Key principles

To ensure optimum website usability, consider the following:

01. Designing for your users

Prioritise the needs, preferences, and expectations of your target audience, not yourself. Consider critical user needs and wants, and give them the information they need.

While your branding shouldn’t get in the way, make sure you maintain it consistently through the site for improved brand recognition and trust. This includes logos, colours, and typography.

02. Responsive and fast design

Ensure your website is responsive and adapts to various screen sizes and devices. Today, quick and mobile-friendly designs are essential for a positive user experience.

This doesn’t only relate to the layouts, however. Often, you’ll see mobile versions of sites have less content and/or visuals than the desktop version of the same site. This helps reduce the cognitive load while also reducing the data for those using their mobile network rather than wifi.

Optimising images and code will help ensure fast loading times. Slow websites can frustrate users and even impact Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

03. Clear, clutter-free navigation

Avoid cluttered layouts and excessive elements on a page. Each element should serve a specific purpose and contribute to the user’s journey.

Any menus, links, and buttons should guide users seamlessly through the website. Likewise, visuals should serve a purpose. It’s perfectly fine to have graphics to add life to the site, but make sure they don’t get in the way of the content your users are there to see.

04. Make it readable

Just like visuals shouldn’t get in the way, make sure your content is easy to read. This includes legible fonts and font sizes, and appropriate line spacing for improved legibility.

Use visual cues like headings, contrasting colours, and whitespace to establish a clear visual hierarchy. This will help important content stand out.

05. Conduct usability testing

The bad news about usability testing is that this is an ongoing project rather than a one-off. Even after launch, you’ll want to keep improving the site.

The good news, however, is that there are many ways to conduct user testing to help identify pain points. Whether you choose to analyse heatmaps, speak with users directly, conduct testing online with volunteer visitors where their mouse movements, interaction and general site usage get observed, you have many options.

Need help building your website?

With years of experience designing and developing sites for a range of users, I understand and respect the need for usability considerations. I’ve developed websites that have seen more than 30,000 monthly users, as well as small websites where the owners have little to no web experience. This has truly opened my eyes to understanding what measures are needed while considering the aesthetics.

If you want to have a chat about how I can help you with your website, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

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