Web Design Usability Tips
There are things you don’t know about your customers. It’s not you, it’s them. But you need to figure it out. Here are some hard lessons I’ve learned over the years – they apply to usability, pet peeves and other fun stuff. Learn these and you’ll have more, happier customers, visitors, readers, fans:
1. Reading onscreen is hard, for everyone
The most basic principle of usability: It’s hard for folks to read online. Much harder than reading in print. Remember this. Burn it into your brain. Small typefaces, weird page layouts and odd color schemes may seem great, but they’re bound to hurt your business in the long run.
2. They like short paragraphs.
Oldest rule of marketing, from way back when we printed on paper and used mail and stuff: Write no more than 4-5 lines in a paragraph. Read My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising (Advertising Age Classics Library) to learn just how little the rules have changed.
3. They like short lines
Reading onscreen is hard. The typical person can best read 10-20 words per line. No more. If you’re using microscopic fonts to fit every word possible on a line, change your ways.
4. They like wide line spacing and nice margins
Also know as ‘leading’, wide line spacing makes text easier to read. Margins shorten the lines so that you get fewer words per line. Folks actually read faster when line spacing is really tight, but they retain and comprehend less. A fantastic piece of research by the University of Wichita proves it.
5. They like dark text on a light background
We are trained to read dark text on a light background. It’s what we’re used to.
6. They don’t mind scrolling up-and-down
With those nifty mouse wheels, folks stopped getting unhappy about scrolling – it’s no longer a usability issue, unless you create a 5000 word page or some silliness. You don’t have to make a home page, or any other page of your web site, fit in a single window. Long pages are OK!
7. Lists make their lives easier
8. They can’t remember your web address
Seriously. No one ever remembers a web address. Oh, sure, if you’re ‘nike.com’ or ‘cnn.com’, they do. But if you’re ‘portentinteractive.com’ or ‘conversationmarketing.com’, good luck with that. Give people plenty of ways to subscribe, bookmark or otherwise remember you. And reserve different permutations on your web address, to protect your brand.
9. They don’t want to log in
Don’t make them log in to check out. Let ‘em just click ‘check out’. By all means, give them the option to save their information and create an account. At the end of the checkout process. At that point, the warm fuzzy feeling any consumer gets from burning hard-earned cash is enough to get them to trust you.
10. They don’t want an ‘experience’
Most people just want to get in, get it and get out. Anything that makes me click twice instead of once is going to impress me the first time, and then alienate me after that. Examples include:
- Home page preloads. Clicking ‘skip intro’ is still extra work.
- Fly-in, fly-out or slow fade-in, fade-out effects for product zoom images and such. Every time you do that, you make the customer wait. Why?
- Don’t take my word for it. Look at the web site of one of the ultimate design companies: Apple.com. See any special effects?
11. They do want your newsletter
Hard to believe after all the spam hysteria, but a sizable chunk of your audience still wants to receive a newsletter. So make it easy for them to find it.
12. They don’t care how clever you are
If you can say “Ian Lurie arrested in drunken rampage”, just say it. Don’t say “Pugnacious Portent Prez Pegged by Police”. The former tells me what’s going on. The latter is funny but unhelpful.
13. They aren’t enticed by mystery
Your online audience is enticed by clarity, a cool product, a great story and such. They’re not enticed by the mystery of it all. So a headline like “Great abs!” isn’t as helpful as “10 exercises to get great abs”. And “All Wired Up” is utterly worthless compared to “Wired Magazine Has A Great Year”.
14. They get lost a lot
It’s easy for a site visitor to get lost. A broken link here, a missing button there, and wham, they’re frustrated and confused. Have a user-friendly 404 error page, a good onsite search tool and really clear navigation. Then review the onsite search data and the 404 errors, and see what they tell you about what your customers want but aren’t getting.
15. They aren’t using cell phones. Yet.
If you do business in North America, chances are your customers aren’t browsing your site using a cell phone. Even this blog, which has more than its share of geek visitors, gets few mobile views: Plan for mobile, by all means. Learn how to create a mobile style sheet. But don’t derail an entire project, or increase the cost 100%, just to be mobile-compatible.
16. They don’t search for your name
Your audience doesn’t know who you are. They aren’t searching for your name. They’re searching based on a question, and they’ll find you if you can pose the right answer. So, while ranking #1 for your company name is great, it probably won’t help your bottom line.
17. They still use Internet Explorer
Not everyone understands that Firefox is the Risen Savior just yet. Most of your audience is probably using Internet Explorer, and a lot of them are still using Internet Explorer 6, design, develop and plan accordingly.