Archive News

14 August 2010

The Essential Guide to Usability in Web Design: Part 1


Over the coming months I aim to jot down my thinking on various aspects of usability in web design. While this may not be the most structured series I’ve ever written, I hope the ideas portrayed throughout the series will help others out there. Discussion, debate and questions are most welcome.

The opinions are my own and come from the 7 years of web design, SEO and accessibility experience I’ve had. Most of the subjects I’ll be bringing up come about from my recent (and ongoing) user experience work on River CMS, what I hope is now a very usable CMS. Some thoughts are core to my way of thinking when building websites.

So, what is usability?

What better way to start with some extracts and quotes:

The primary notion of usability is that an object designed with a generalized users’ psychology and physiology in mind is, for example:

More efficient to use – takes less time to accomplish a particular task
Easier to learn – operation can be learned by observing the object
More satisfying to use

Content will become more important than navigation. Content is the ‘there’ of navigation.
- Jake Winebaum, Chairman, Disney’s Buena Vista Internet Group

Usability: the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use.
- ISO 9241-11: Guidance on Usability

The most common user action on a Web site is to flee.
- Edward Tufte, Information Design Guru

In my view, the key to usability is allowing users of various skill levels to accomplish what they need to do, without issues within a single system.

For an application like River CMS, users of various skill levels perform actions as simple as editing a word on their website to deploying ecommerce catalogues. A usable system must handhold users with less knowledge through a particular process whilst users of greater technical knowledge must not be slowed down by the system’s quirks. It must have a scalable user experience.

What’s next?

So, in Part 1 we have taken a quick walk down Usability Street. In Part 2 we shall introduce methods of allowing users to get more done in fewer clicks, and stop them having to make decisions with content spread through an application. We’ll take a look at some real examples from common sites and River CMS and I’ll do my best to explain the reasoning, psychology and user behaviour of each usability example.