Web Site Usability

Obvious Yet Often Neglected

The primary consideration for a website is how well it gets the message across to visitors. Whether the site provides goods, services, or information, making things easy for those that have come to look around will pay off more than any other effort.
Usable Content is Vital
Content is Why People Come to a Web Site

Try this. Make a list of your favorite websites and next to each one write down what you go there for. Here’s another approach. Look at your browser’s history and from where you can see that last several sites you’ve been to. Odds are you surf around looking for ‘stuff’ which could be anything from paintings in the Louvre to the web edition of your favorite newspaper.

Finding Content Easily is Vital

Having the information on the site is only of value if it can be found. Someone visiting your site may have heard about it from

  • a search engine query
  • your own advertising
  • word of mouth

Getting them there is hard enough. Now how are you going to provide them with what they want? By making the content they came to find quickly and easily available. Clear and predictable navigation with enough explanation to give visitors the basics at a glance and less than will get them bored is critical.

Clear plain text links in the right size type and a legible color will do more to make your visitors happy and your site popular than all the fancy graphical links you can ever create. Of course if you have the time and talent, or budget for well prepared graphics they will make the visitor’s experience easier and thus more pleasurable. Just make sure they can find what they’re looking for first.
Content Delivery in a Hurry

Q : What do Fast Food and the Web have in common?

A : They both cater to the needs of those that would rather get things quickly and with a minimum of effort.

Let’s have another look at the Louvre Museum site, this time at the art collections page.

See how fast that came in? Some of the finest art in the world is displayed in this museum yet they managed to create usable images that download on a typically slow internet at much faster speeds than a great many sites.

Here’s how

make the images small, e.g. thumbnails
optimize the compression of the images
use progressive rendering techniques, i.e. notice how the images came in from a blur and then completed?

There are other methods that can be used as well.

For example, preloading is a method where an image that is too large to expect someone to want to wait for is instead invisibly loaded on a previous page.

Eh? For an illustration, check out this example. The image being pre-loaded is over 30k in size and I wouldn’t want to make someone wait that long without good reason. So I invisibly loaded it on the page that distracted you first. Once you read everything and clicked the link, the image was already in your computer and poped up instantly.

Another Example of Preloading

In this example I preloaded a 46k animation on the guestbook page of my Cat ‘n Moose website, so that after the visitor filled out the form they would get the animation delivered immediately from their computer’s cache. Without the preload the animation would be slowed down by the loading to the point that it wouldn’t work as designed.
Accessibility for Everyone

Many people have special needs. This includes differences in vision, manual dexterity, and hearing. To accommodate as many people as possible is to be truly visitor friendly. It is also good business, good citizenship, and the law.

Some of the things you can do on your site :

Choose your colors wisely.
Avoid the use of music unless appropriate.
Use the alt attribute on images, and the heading tags to organize your content.

Feel free to contact us if you’d like more information about making a website that will provide visitors with a pleasant and productive experience.

Related Links:

Top Ten Guidelines for Homepage Usability
Designing On Both Sides of Your Brain
Create a Usable Flash Site
Create A Preloading Graphic Smart Computing
Javascript Tutorial: Mouse Rollovers and Preloading Images
The Art of Flash 5 Preloading
Use Your Web Site FutureU Business Catalog
How to Create Successful Banners
The STAR Group Web Developers