Usability is all about making things easy. If you want to open a can you use a can opener, you don't saw the can in half. If you want more information from a website you fill out a contact form, you don't snail-mail them your request.
Usability = K.I.S.S. (keep it simple stupid)
Everybody knows how to turn pages while browsing a magazine but browsing a website can be complicated. When visitors to a website feel smart and confident they tend to stick around, when they feel stupid and incompetent they leave. Any business that wants a larger market needs to be interested in improving their sites usability.
A customers experience on a website begins from the second they enter the site and is added upon through each "touchpoint" that the customer has on the site. A website is often a customer's first impression of a business, and is a great example of the complex relationship between usability and web design. An ugly website may be highly functional, but users assume that since the site cut corners with their design they also cut corners with their products or services. However, a beautiful website may lack in functionality causing users become frustrated and lose trust in the brand or leave the site all-together.
These experiences add up to form an opinion, which becomes how the customer eventually views the brand as a whole. If a customer has a poor experience on the site they will in turn view have a negative perception of that company and will likely discourage others from visiting the site. Customers with a positive experience have a positive perception of the company and are likely to return and encourage others to visit to the site.
This is not to say that there cannot be a happy marriage between usability and design, quite the opposite in fact. There are many sites which seamlessly incorporate usability and design, and these sites are seeing the benefits:
- Increase of new customers
- Increased customer satisfaction
- Increased repeat customers
- Increased word of mouth referrals from happy customers
- Forms are submitted, sales are completed and goals are met
- Decreased time spent training employees how to use the site
- Decreased development costs from fixing usability or design mistakes
As you can see there are many benefits to successfully merging usability and design. Usability should never be an afterthought in the design process, but if it was, it's not too late. Usability can still be incorporated into any website by making some minor changes or through a complete redesign.
Before making any changes to a site, it is always wise to define usability problems. By understanding how users intent to use your site and what they wish to accomplish, you can then begin to form an idea of where usability may be lacking. It is also important to identify how customers currently use your site: what features of your site are used the most, which features are used the least or do not work, and which features they want more of. Identifying these features can help to define any usability issues and ensure that your site will continue to support current customer needs while improving usability and attracting new customer.
Usability problems are not unique to just customers, your site may be used by employees as well. Often time's employees do not use a website in the same manner as a customer, they know where to go and what to do in order to accomplish their task. Employees can still encounter usability issues though, if a site has poor usability employees will need more training on how to use the system and may have difficulty adding or updating content to the site. Business objectives may also be affected by poor usability. Everything from marketing goals and brand definition to the desired revenue must be outlined in order to develop a clear objective what you wish your customers to accomplish. If you don't know what you want your customers to do they can't do it.
Defining usability issues can be a daunting task, fortunately there are many resources available to assist website owners. In part two of this article we will discuss some of these resources as well as solutions on how to correct usability problems.
Please click here and fill out our contact form so that we can email you an advanced copy of "Part 2 of Usability and Your Site".