What is it?
Basically, a website's usability is determined by how easy it is to use. Usability is determined by the website visitor and may vary depending upon the audience of a website.
Usability, 2 Key Attributes
There are 2 key attributes to a usable website and all three relate to non-technical issues. The key attributes are:
- Knowing Your Audience
- Respecting Your Audience
Most discussions on website design for usability cover specific features of websites, but usability is even more basic than that.
Knowing and respecting your audience is where all usability discussions should begin.
Let's consider some of the most commonly discussed aspects of what makes a website usable.
- Can the website visitor easily read the content on the site?
- Is the font too little?
- Do the colors make it hard to see the letters?
- Is the font too fancy and unreadable?
- Can your target visitor correctly view the site?
- Does the layout rely on the visitor having a particular browser?
- Do they need Flash or some other player/viewer to view your site?
- Do the pages take a long time to load because of large file sizes?
- How easy is the site to navigate?
- Is it clear where to click to access the different pages?
- Does you site have any dead ends - pages that contain no navigation to the rest of the site?
- Do you disable the back button - directly or indirectly?
How quickly this list begins to grow.
Look back over the list, don't all of them relate to knowing and respecting your audience?
Your Audience Defines Usability
Who are you hoping will come and look at your website? Who is your target audience? Every website has one. If you know and understand your target audience, you also know their level of technical ability.
A website like this one, designed for beginners, needs to be very easy to navigate and should perhaps skip the fancy drop down, flyout, or rollover menus. Many new users will not understand how to use them and will therefore deem your site not usable.
Conversely, this website would probably not be overly attractive to experienced webmasters as it does not employ some of the more fancy web programming techniques that they often use.
Website Usability & Respect
Respect may seem a strange component to usability, but, I assure you, it is at it's core.
Perhaps if we phrase it; Respect the website visitor's time. Think about that one a minute.
You've invited people to come visit with you and your piece of the web - now what?
How long do you make them wait before you welcome them, i.e. how long does it take for the page to load?
Do you respect the fact that they've come to look at your offerings?
Do you think disabling the back button shows that you respect your visitor? Or does it show you want to trick them in some way?
Think about it. Respect covers many of the common techniques discussed in relation to website usability. Design a website and not respect your visitors and design a website destined to fail.
The Last Words on Usability
Designing for usability is all about knowing and respecting your audience. Once you begin designing with that in mind, it will be easy to design websites for usability.
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