If a homepage fails to highlight clearly what a company does, visitors will move on. If a website is cluttered or difficult to navigate, users will leave. There is a science behind this. This particular “quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use” is called usability or “user experience”.
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Real world vs online
We don’t often realise it, but in the real world, we constantly have to navigate our way physically and interact with signage, objects, appliances or electronic systems, all of which are governed by a set of rules. The colour red generally means danger or stop on a road, one single switch turns most electrical appliances on and off, the buttons on TV remotes follow similar colour codes across devices etc.
But what happens online? Does the online world replicate the real world, or is it governed by its own set of rules?
Standard rules are more likely to be adopted by the general public if they are easy to understand and intuitive. This is precisely what made the early versions of the Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows so successful when they were first released. A simple Graphical User Interface used a set of task icons that simply replicated real life situations: a rubbish bin, a pair of scissors, a folder, an envelope, back and forward arrows etc.
Since the early days of the web, several researchers have established a set of usability guidelines for online content. Leaving aside technical considerations, these principles were simply meant to facilitate navigation for the end user. Usability expert Jakob Nielsen established the first rules in the early 1990s and published his 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design in 1995.
Since then, many other researchers have come up with additional rules or alternative principles. But even though web technologies have evolved dramatically over the last 30 years, the same core usability guidelines are still relevant today.
These are simple navigation conventions which can become critical with very complex websites – think huge e-commerce platforms like Amazon or secure online banking websites.
Likewise, the same set of guidelines remains valid for simple informative websites or blogs.
Keep it simple
- Immediately provide visitors with the information they are looking for and eliminate irrelevant details, especially on the Home Page.
- Maintain a clear and consistent structure: at all times, users should know where they are and understand how they can navigate between pages.
- Keep the language simple. Avoid gobbledygook and technical jargon.
- Ensure the correct flow of information and include help or interactive feedback along the way if needed to validate actions or prevent errors.
When designing a website, one should always think twice before adding functionalities, more pages, additional forms and buttons or any “bells and whistles”.
Do these features add to the user experience or are they creating a new layer of interaction that is not necessary?