Archive for May, 2009

Why Is Usability Important?

Thursday, May 21st, 2009 by

One oft-overlooked aspect of web design is called website “usability.” Put simply, usability is the ability for website visitors to do what they want to do quickly and easily. Many web designers often spend more time making a site look pretty. We’re not against good-looking websites! But a clean design is not enough to make a good website. Let me use an illustration.

Imagine you go to the store to buy a birthday gift for your friend. You walk in the store and the appearance of the store immediately impresses you. Everything is clean. There is nice music playing faintly in the background. There is a pleasant scent in the air. As you begin to browse the aisles, though, you notice something is amiss. You cannot find what you’re looking for. The aisles are not labeled well. They are also a bit narrow and you keep bumping into people. There are no store employees in sight to help you. What would you do? After a time of looking around in vain, you would leave the store and decide to shop somewhere else.

Website usability is like that. It’s much less tangible than an attractive web design. However, it’s far more important. It includes things like clearly labeling different parts of the website so visitors can easily find their way around. Important areas of the page are easy to spot. It’s simple to find contact information. A search feature is highly visible on the page.

Spend the extra time focusing on usable design. You will never regret it.

Read some more about why usability is important at Jakob Nielsen’s website. He has volumes of information on the topic that you may find helpful.

What Makes A Good Website?

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009 by

The short answer is: great content, great design, and great organization.

When you’re thinking about what makes a good website, you first need to examine your goals. Do you want to sell something? Then including a safe checkout system is a must. Do you want to help people find things to do in your city? Having a good way to search restaurants, events, and historical sites is necessary. Your goals will determine what kinds of things you need to include on your website to bring it from being mediocre to being great.

Without a clear focus and particular goals, your site will never reach its full potential. You must do more than examine your goals, however. Let’s assume that your goals and focus are in place. You need to work on your content, design, and organization to produce a good website.

Content

You need good, quality content. Chances are, you need an abundance of it. The amount of content you need on your site will vary. You will need more if your site is primarily informational. All content should be well-written. It should also be original. Either produce something unique, or offer a unique perspective on something that is not unique. You can even bring resources together in a unique way. But, by all means, offer your site visitors some unique web content. Say something original. Say something meaningful. Say something helpful. Say it well. You will never have a good website without this. Chances are, you’ll also see your online conversion rates increase.

Visual Design

Professional website design can make your site stand out from the crowd. There is a big difference between a clean design like The New York Times from The International Ghost Hunters Society. The ghost site is somewhat entertaining. It even brings back some memories from the 90s. But it’s not good design. It is not clean. It is difficult to find information. For instance, try finding the site navigation. (Hint: it’s near the bottom of the page.) Everything screams that this is an amateur site. On the contrary, take a look at the list of nice site designs. I don’t know about you, but I’m impressed.

Would you go into an interview without dressing up? Would you invite dinner guests over without cleaning up the house some? Of course not. Why treat your website any differently? You’re presenting yourself or your company to the public. Give a good visual impression.

Organization

The technical name for this is “information architecture.” It has to do with how you arrange all the content on your site. In most cases, I would argue that a hierarchical structure is best. This is the arrangement of site material into sections, subsections, and so on. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Will you arrange material by audience? By topic? By price? Spend some time thinking through this.

Let’s revisit the ghost site. Why is the membership link lumped in with the jewelry links? Why are links to local sites interspersed with links to voices and lunar cycles? They have nothing in common.

Good website organization is much less tangible than the visual design. However, helping your site visitors find what they’re looking for quickly and easily can be more even more important than having a site that looks nice. If you’ve spent the money to get a great visual design, don’t shoot yourself in the foot by creating a poorly-organized website.

Conclusion

So what makes a good website?

  • Great content.
  • Great design.
  • Great organization.

These certainly aren’t the only elements to a great site, but you need to start with these. You’ll never have a good website without them.

For more information, check out a good article on what makes a great website. It’s a bit more thorough than the information I presented here. I think you’ll find it helpful.