Usability is about designing content with a user-friendly approach. When developing a website, it is important to consider the user experience, which refers to how users will interact with a website. Creating a user-friendly interface will allow for ease of access, understanding, and use of the information, which can make all the difference for users.
Content creators must understand that not everyone interacts with a website the same way. Users can vary by abilities; users can be visual learners, auditory learners and they can also vary by age and prior knowledge. It is important to keep in mind the different perspectives and methods of interaction each user will have. When constructing an application or website, expect users to make errors. Try to anticipate where users will go wrong and create designs that mitigate this possibility.
Content must be simplified and well organized so it can be understood by a wide array of users from targeted audiences and so that it is clear to users where they are, what they have found and what to expect on the webpage. This is not to say that content should be overly simplified for users. When content is too simplified, it becomes a disservice to users as it could result in missing information. The content should, therefore, be simple enough so that all users can interpret the information and leave little room for misinterpretation. the website design should be predictable and simple. Creating unique structures and navigation methods may leave website visitors confused and frustrated. Users should expect consistent functionality throughout the site and not have different a different navigation system for each page.
- Audience: Identify your primary users and what their main expectation is from your website. Make sure you incorporate the needs of different user types and what you want each user type to achieve.
- Critical functions: Make a list of all critical functions and consider providing a logical path to achieve these functions. Identify the best ways to help a user accomplish major tasks. (e.g. registration, search result, finding resources, signing up, creating profile, etc.)
- Website main objective: Always keep in mind the main goal of the website and assess the content and design along the way to comply with the main objective of the website.
- Website Identity: Make sure that the purpose of the website and what it has to offer is clear to the user within a few seconds of landing on the website.
- Content type: Content should be accessible and digestible to users from different background and with varying needs.
- Navigation and structure: Minimize the level of difficulty for a user to complete a task by designing a thoughtful website structure and clear navigational path.
- Cognitive load: The website should reduce short-term memory load and recall.
- Provide a method to help users keep track of their navigational path in a website (i.e. breadcrumb site navigation)
- Interactive elements such as buttons and links should show that they have been activated.
- Include important instructions (i.e. form field format) should remain onscreen as necessary.
- Simplicity, goal oriented: The website should have minimal complexity and should be simple enough for users to accomplish their goals.
- Avoid distracting information.
- Category labels should reflect their content accurately.
- Site navigation structure should be simple with a clear conceptual model.
- Consistency: Related items should be presented in similar or identical ways so no difficulties could be created for users.
- Identical terminology should be used.
- Information displayed and data entered by users should be the same
- Visual presentations such as visual cues should be consistent through the site.
- Flexibility, predictability, and efficiency: There should be a minimal amount of features that require unnecessary user interaction.
- Allow the use of shortcuts, hotkeys, and accelerators.
- Avoid unnecessary complexity.
- Allow users to control the pace of the interaction.
- The design can be customized to the users’ needs.
Example 1: Tiny Clickable Areas
Tiny clickable areas create a barrier to users with low vision or mobility impairments, preventing them from accessing information. The small areas can be difficult to navigate to when using a mouse, or can often be overlooked due to small font size. For example, in the mobile view (responsive mode), the clickable area should be big enough for the user to be able to touch the clickable item. Use CSS techniques to expand the clickable area.
The image below is an example from Smashing Magazine showcasing tiny clickable areas. The links “18 comments,” “16 comments” and “discuss” are difficult for users to navigate to and see. Although keyboard-only users may navigate to links easily, other users such as mouse-users or users with mobility impairments may not. Providing large clickable areas will allow all users to see and access content.
Example 2: Visited Links Color
Links that do not change color make it difficult for users to track the sites they have visited. Visited links should display different colors so users will have a record of the links they have visited.
Questions Content Creators Should Ask Themselves
Content creators should ask themselves these questions to help determine if their website is accessible:
- Does my website do the things people want it to do?
- Can people quickly find what they want without help?
- Do people make lots of mistakes using my website?
- Can everyone use my website?
- Making a website usable begins with how the users will interact with your website. How people interact with a website can make all the difference, and excluding any user may tarnish the site’s credibility.
When to Test
Testing should be performed whenever any major design or content change – such as navigation, site structure, labeling, forms, visual display, or interactive elements -- affects the user experience of one of the critical functions of your site.
Content creators and testers should have a clear understanding of the mission critical functions (what you want the users to achieve and expect from your website) which define the main objective of a website.
In other words, it is essential to identify the level of difficulty to accomplish a task on the website.
There are five usability tests that can be conducted.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1)
- Improving the User Experience by usability.gov
- Wuhcag: What’s the difference between web accessibility and usability?
- Usability First: Principles of Accessible and Universal Design
- Webaim: Constructing a POUR Website
- Neilsen Norman Group: Top 10 Mistakes in Web Design
- Usability Geek: 10 Guidelines For Navigation Usability