There are some things in life you just take for granted: oxygen, sunshine, toilet paper. Add to that list web usability and you’ll realize that in a lot of ways usability is like toilet paper. (I promise, this gets better.) You take it for granted and don’t take much notice of it when it’s around, but boy oh boy do you ever realize when it’s absent.
Many of us presume that good usability is about helping people accomplish something. The fact is, good usability is the polar opposite: to prevent users from committing errors. Errors create confusion, frustration, abandoned shopping carts and worst of all, users leaving your site. We understand that conversion is about getting users to do what you want them to do, but this is a lost cause if you can’t prevent them from doing what you don’t want them to do, getting lost and frustrated. Think about how users can make mistakes first, and you’re on your way to a more usable site.
Remember that bit earlier about taking usability for granted? Designers and developers are also notorious for assuming that if it makes sense to them, it must make sense to the whole world. Even the most innocuous of decisions can prove to be mind-boggling to the average Joe. The only way to combat this is through simple user testing. In the absence of traditional modes of testing (eye tracking, user narration, performance tests, A/B testing), make sure that you validate your design against a group that is unfamiliar with the details of your project.
Those that are too cool for school usually have the most to learn. Being overly original when it comes to user experience can hurt you unless you are truly building a better mousetrap. People are comfortable with familiar paradigms for navigation and interaction. There’s plenty of room to be creative in your design and messaging…don’t mess with foundational best practices for navigation and browsing.
Remember: web users are not stupid, but they are impatient and expect a lot. As much as we think we understand what is intuitive and logical, trying to get into someone else’s mind just isn’t that easy. Usability is not intuitive, it doesn’t just happen, and it’s not common sense. Keeping those points in mind will go a long way in keeping your users on your site, keeping them happy, and making your website work harder for you.
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