Aside from a talent for problem-solving and an ever-growing toolbox of technical skills, an effective web developer needs to keep an eye on usability.
Usability, aka UX (user experience), makes or breaks a website or software system. Without it, your website will likely fail in its primary purpose, be it selling a product or service, conveying information or gaining followers. With it, the end user’s time spent on your website will be rewarding for them and ultimately for you, as owner of that website, and they probably won’t even notice how smooth their website journey has been.
Web usability comes in many flavours but put simply, it’s the ease of use of a website. Yes, things like ease of navigation, intuitive design, fast loading pages, clear calls to action and appropriate accessibility options for people with disabilities all play their part, but ultimately what is the overriding measure of how usable a website is?
If you’re a budding web designer or developer, or your role comes anywhere near web solutions, then beg, borrow or steal a copy of Steve Krug’s book ‘Don’t Make Me Think’. Actually, don’t steal it. But find yourself a copy (and no, we’re not on commission!). Or if you really don’t have the time to read it, just remember the title. Don’t make me think.
When you’re scoping, planning, building and testing your website (and in fact, this goes for most products, services or processes), keep that phrase in mind. As soon as the end user has stop and think what to do, where to look, what to click on, it means you’ve not done your job. Good usability means it is clear to the user from their first glance at your homepage who you are, what you do and what they need to do next. Stick by this simple guideline and you’re a good way there.
Let’s take this one step further – and this is the bit that Maroon Balloon is forever drilling into the minds of designers, developers and clients alike. As Steve Krug suggests, imagine your website user has a small vial of liquid. That’s their ‘reservoir of goodwill’.
Each time they have to stop and think – to find a call to action (be it a button to press, link to click, phone number to call), to wait for an image to load, how to read your small text, to see how to get to the next page or getting confused for some other reason – they lose some of that goodwill.
You can get away with it for a short time, but that reservoir doesn’t have to get drained too low before they give up and go elsewhere, maybe to a competitor’s website. Keep it topped up for them with good usability – research user needs and habits, plan, design, build, test and test again – and they’ll stay with you. Don’t make them stop and think!
Check out our work and testimonials to see how we take usability seriously. It goes back a long way – our MD Tim spent a good number of years championing accessibility and web usability in the public sector.