Breaking Usability Down Into Its Components
If you’re a web designer or web content writer, usability is something you need to constantly keep in mind. As we all know and have experienced, if a website is difficult to use, either in terms of the design/functionality or in terms of the content, visitors will leave. Keeping in mind the specific components of web usability will help you make better decisions about your website – decisions that will help it survive and succeed.
Now, these usability components won’t tell you specific rules for how to design a website or write content for one. What they will do is pose questions about many factors related to the design and content of your website – factors that ultimately contribute to a visitor’s perception of, and satisfaction with, your website.
How you decide on the answers to these questions goes a long way towards making sure that your website does what’s supposed to do: communicate information to visitors in the hopes that they’ll enter into some relationship with your organization or business. (That relationship can be many things – at minimum though, it can be defined as some transaction of information between you and your visitors.)
So let’s take a look at some of the specific components of usability. To make it easier, I’m breaking it up into three smaller categories – design-related, content-related, and user-related.
Web designers have a lot of control over a website’s usability, and for good reason too – so much of our perception of a website centers on the visual and on the design tools that help visitors navigate the website. Here are some usability components that web designers have influence over:
- Findability – Does the design make it easy for visitors to do the basic tasks that they’ve come to your website to do? It shouldn’t be a stumbling block in the visitors’ path – findability means letting people find where they want to go quickly and without confusion.
- Utility – Does the design and functionality allow your visitors to complete the task that they’ve come to the website to do, or does it get in the way? For example, does a website make it easy for customers to find and purchase a product?
- Accessibility – Accessible design lets all visitors understand the content on your website. Designers can ensure this through such things as good color contrast, proper font sizing, good link text (and not using “click here” as the link text), etc.
- Scanability – Does your design make it easy for your visitors to quickly scan your website and understand what it offers them? Good, clean design with properly spaced, properly colored, and properly sized elements will help do this.
Web content writers also have a large role to play in a website’s usability, because after all, the content is what visitors are coming to the website for. Usable website content is also:
- Useful – Does your content provide the information that your visitors are looking for? Useful content is on the need-to-know basis. Tell your visitors what they need (or want) to know in order to complete a transaction with you; anything more will confuse them.
- Valuable – Valuable content gives your visitors something that they can’t find elsewhere, and has a strong connection with their why they’re searching for it. It will also make it more likely that they’ll come back to your website in the future.
- Credible – Why should visitors trust your website? Is the content fact or just your opinion? How rich is the content compared to similar websites? How current and accurate is the information? All of these factors, and much more, go into building your content’s credibility.
- Accessible – Is your content written in simple language that all visitors can understand? The clearer the language, the more usable your website is, especially when taking into consideration that not all visitors have the same web literacy level.
- Scannable – Can visitors scan your website and see headers, links, etc. written in simple language that clearly tells them what the content and your website is about? For example, the link to your about page should say “About”, not “Who We Are”.
The last person that plays a big role in determining a website’s usability is ultimately the one who the website is intended for: the visitor. It’s their perception of a website that matters the most. Your usability decisions will certainly impact on their perception, but there are some things you can’t control for.
Here are some of the usability components that are most strongly perceived by your visitors:
- Learnability – Is it easy for new visitors to accomplish basic tasks the first time they’re interacting with your design and content? You can bet that a website that’s difficult to learn to use will have few transactions and few people coming back to it again.
- Memorability – When users come back to the website after a long period of not using it, how easy is it for them to re-figure out how to use it again? To establish consistency, consider using the same terminology in any redesigns of your website.
- Satisfaction – How pleasant do your visitors think the overall experience of using your website is? If your website doesn’t get in the way of them doing what they want to do, that’s good. If there are so many problems that they give up in frustration, that’s bad.
- Errors – What happens when someone does the wrong thing on your website, such as filling out a form wrong, or clicking on a broken link? Your website should clearly communicate what went wrong and how they can avoid it in the future – it will go a long way.
What other components do you think there are to your website’s usability? What have you experienced while visiting other websites that has contributed towards them being usable? Share your thoughts with everyone by leaving a comment below!