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Website usability explained

I’m often asked what usability or User centred design is and how long it’s been around and I struggle to give a simple answer. It was around way before the Internet. Take industrial product design or VB programming for Windows as examples and it is about the ergonomic, interaction experience.

The basic principle is making a website easy to use and easy to learn, ensuring that the user can accomplish his task easily.

However, it sill remains firmly grounded in the “Functional world” of Internet design and is yet to become a commonly used tool in brand and marketing.

How does it fit in with marketing?

To understand how your customers will react to your latest online campaign or website presence you need to ensure that both the product USPs and customer needs are understood and met.

You may have the “cheapest”, “great for families” holiday deals to the USA, but if your customer struggles to understand these points within the first few seconds of exposure to your site, advert or message then all is lost.


Creativity is good but don’t over indulge the brand

Particularly bad examples of this are sites or ads that are cryptic, expecting the user to interact because they will be intrigued.

The common myths surrounding usability

“My team should be able to create a site that is brilliantly branded, interactive and easy to use.”

Far too often managers expect their designers to be experts in every field and almost as often designers and creatives will express their knowledge and understanding of usability. Both are usually right, however the main factor that changes things are the businesses priorities.

Marketing agencies usually focus on getting the most polished, brand experience across, allowing little time for user testing and iteration. A tech build website company will usually overlook the design and usability for technical ability, database complexity or speed of data processing.

All in-house design teams suffer from varying pressures bought on by short deadlines, multiple projects and worst of all, being too close to the site design to see it from a user’s point of view.

So what’s involved?

A number of leading marketing and creative agencies now rely on external usability consultancies to work with their designers, ensuring the final product is both usable and appealing.

These services are typical combined under the title of User Centred Design or Functional Design and Usability. They typically consist of:

Functional Design

? User requirements; what does the user want and need.

? Business requirements; what do you want to achieve.

Usability review (User testing)

? Competitor research; how do both direct and parallel competitors compare to you

? Qualitative lab based interactive reviews; target users interact with the site / ad and give direct feedback.

? Online quantitative surveys; both traditional questionnaires and tracked online site usage and feedback can be obtained.

? Field studies; Institute review with target users at home, in the office or on the move.

A typical project could use either of the above techniques or combine both.

What are the benefits and results?

The culmination of this research is an website that achieves the business goals, clearly projects the product or company USPs and meets the users requirements for simplicity, ease of use and interest.

Another measure of success is how well the usability consultants worked with your design and creative teams as well as technical team integration.

The final and most straight forward way to measure success is to measure the ROI based on your performance benchmarks; more visitors, more registration, higher purchases, longer visit times, etc.

Once a user centred approach has been used to develop or improve a site, the benefits will be very clearly illustrated, leading to many companies changing the way they work and retaining usability consultancies for impartial, objective reviews and advice in future projects.

By Chris Averill, CEO of CADinteractive