In this age of the information onslaught, don’t we all have enough to think about already? Deadlines, World events. Coordinating our schedules. I think we can all agree the mind is amply burdened, without having to take on unnecessary tasks.
And that's what you should remember whne planning your website.
Your website has milliseconds to grab the attention of visitors. If the right information isn't immediately obvious, it can affect a buying decision. Thus, effortlessness is the key to good and effective web design, and key to the Responsive Web Design Principle (RWD). This idea of unburdening the mind is central to RWD—the design principle that prioritizes user-friendliness above all else.
A fancy (and expensive) website is all but worthless if visitors can’t use it properly. So to be able to design a user-friendly site is to first understand how people look at websites.
Despite well-written paragraphs, and illustrative pictures, users don’t read the pages; we scan them. Eyes dart around until a visitor finds the closest thing to what we are looking for (a Search Button, for instance). If they don’t find exactly what they are looking for within milliseconds, they will click on whatever is closest to that item, rather than spend more cognitive effort.
Steve Krug, author of Don’t Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, states the basic principle of web design is the elimination of question marks. “The point is, when we’re using the web every question mark adds to our cognitive workload, distracting our attention from the task at hand. The distractions may be slight but they add up, and sometimes it doesn’t take much to throw us.”
The best way to achieve this is to create pages that are “self-evident, or at least self-explanatory”.
Krug’s theory about how we use the web shows us to be cut-throat, and hasty users (or at least very, very pressed for time). He says as users:
- We don’t make optimal choices
- We don’t figure out how things work
- We muddle through
So how to engage with web users? The answer is to make the choices apparent, make things easier to figure out, and make the most important things the most obvious.
In practice, this means
- Creating a clear visual hierarchy
- Making conventions your friends
- Clearly defining areas
- Making it obvious what’s clickable
- Keeping the noise down to a dull roar
Krug also suggests removing half the words (think of it as the copy writer’s equivalent to Coco Chanel’s mantra "before leaving the house… look in the mirror and remove one accessory.").
How Will I Know?
By doing a usability test.
In a usability test, one user at a time is asked to figure out what the site is asking, or to try to navigate somewhere. Simple stuff…or at least it ought to be! If your website fails the usability test meaning it takes too long to achieve a task or creates frustration in any way, it’s very likely that other users are having the same issues.
Confused about ways to simplify your site? Why not talk to us about a design and navigation assessment?