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©2000 Usability

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usability? The usefulness or usableness of a thing --- an oven, a stereo, software, a web site.

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web usability bad design
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Usable is defined as as: Fit for use; convenient to use. A no-brainer, right? Nope.

For years, manufacturers have spent small fortunes on prototyping and re-designing products. Then, the proliferation of computers gave way to an entire field of study called human computer interaction (HCI).

HCI, coupled with the principles of Cognitive Psychology, have taught software developers a great deal.

There are more subtleties involved in making something usable than meets the eye.

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Web Usability
In the early days of the web, its novelty saw visitors spending enormous amounts of of time browsing. Not anymore.

Visitors want information, want to buy, want to interact...FAST...and with little or no effort on their part.

They expect a site to anticipate their needs. And if it doesn't, they'll find a site that can. After all, finding one is only a click away.

Communication via the web is most effective when everything about the site is immediately obvious to the visitor---at a glance.

And transactions are maximized when there is little or no effort required by the visitor.

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  • Utilize consistent design elements and visual queues throughout the site. And be vigilant about it.
  • Keep content concise and compelling. Did we mention concise? And, oh yeah, concise.
  • Make the purchase process easy, error free and self-serving.
  • Carefully evaluate the use of Flash and other cutting-edge technology. Will it add value to the visitor's experience or create a sluggish one?
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Guru Quotes
Renowned usability gurus discuss it best:
  • User success rates on e-commerce sites are only 56%, and most sites comply with only a third of the usability guidelines. Given this, improving a site's usability can substantially increase both sales and a site's odds of survival.
    Jakob Nielsen, preeminent usability guru

  • It's virtually impossible to divorce the issues of site architecture, usability and design. They must all work together in close harmony if a site is to provide real value.
    Eric L. Reiss, "Practical Information Architecture"
  • ...80 percent of the mistakes you will make in information architecture can be caught if you bring in a great usability expert from the beginning.
    Roger Black, foreword to "Don't Make Me Think"
  • Struggling to add features and functionality, many sites have become bogged down in a hard-to-navigate sea of links [and...] overall usability isn't getting better.
    Maryann Jones Thompson , "The Standard", 10/99

  • People don't visit many web pages considering how many there are.
  • When they do visit a page, they decide if they are going to stay in 3 seconds. If they don't know what to do, they hit the BACK button.
  • The vast majority of people who visit your site are not going to figure out what to do in 3 seconds.
  • If you show them in a totally obvious obvious obvious way, maybe they will figure it out.
  • I didn't make [these] up...they're tested facts.
    Seth Godin, "The Big Red Fez "

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Bad Design

Following is one example of bad web design. It is not meant to criticize the company but to educate and to illustrate that a professionally developed site is not necessarily a usable one.

Artisan Interiors
This company has great products and great customer service but their website, despite a professional looking design concept, is frustrating and time-consuming to navigate.

It is unlikely that the site contributes significantly to overall sales, and the ROI is probably disappointing.

Too much page real estate is dedicated to the logo, a non-essential graphic, and unnecessary text.

The navigation is too subtle and falls "below the fold", requiring unnecessary scrolling.

Also, no products, promotional offers or calls to action are showcased.

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Poor page layout

For visitors using Macintosh machines, the PRODUCTS sub-navigation is missing and appears as blank lines.

And still no products are showcased above the fold.

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Missing navigation

Finally, after 3 clicks in, we find colors and swatches...but again, only when we scroll down.
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Key info not visible

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Get your web team educated about usability and save money and time in the long term.


"Don't Make Me Think" -Steve Krug
"The Big Red Fez "-Seth Godin
"Son of Web Pages That Suck"-Flanders & Willis
"Designing Web Usability"-Jakob Nielsen
"Homepage Usability"-Jakob Nielsen
"Practical Information Architecture"-Eric L. Reiss

In the meantime though, hire Usability Medic, Inc. to identify and remedy the current issues on your site, or to build usability into your site from the start.

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© 2002 Usability Medic, Inc. All rights reserved.
Learn Usability
Usability Tip
Provide a clear statement of the site's purpose right on the home page.
Guru Quotes
On the internet, the competition is always just one click away, so if you frustrate your users they'll head somewhere else.

-Steve Krug, "Don't Make Me Think"

Bad Design
Here's an example of bad web design to help you and your team recognize things that can encroach upon usability.
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