User-Centered Design – The Key to a Usable Website

Usability imageIn order for your website to be successful, users must visit the site and successfully find information or accomplish tasks. How can your ensure your website will be easy to navigate and users will achieve their goal?  By ensuring “usability” through user-centered design. Before we examine user-centered design, let’s take a look at usability…

What is usability?

In the context of a website, usability refers to how well users can learn and use the site and how satisfied they are with the process. According to Jakob Nielsen, a web usability expert, usability consists of five quality components:

  • Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the site?
  • Efficiency: Once users have learned the site, how quickly can they perform tasks?
  • Memorability: When users return to the site after a period of not using it, how easily can they reestablish proficiency?
  • Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?
  • Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the site?

What is user-centered design?

In the early days of web development, websites were tested for usability at the end of the development phase. Usability testing consisted of a “validation” of the design. If all went well, the design was good. However, if there were usability issues, then the cost to correct was high.

User-centered design is a structured approach to producing a website that involves users throughout all stages of the website development. By incorporating user-centered design, the needs of the users are considered and the usability of the website is continually validated throughout the development process. This continual validation will ensure that the final website is usable and meets end users’ needs without incurring high redevelopment costs.

By incorporating user-centered design, you can improve the effectiveness of your website while reducing the cost of development. In the world of website development, it’s like eating your cake and having it too!!

Writing for the Web

Image of writer and keyboardWriting for the Web is different from writing for print. Why?  People read differently on the Web than they do when reading print. When viewing a new page, readers look at headings and subheadings, browse for hyperlinks and keywords. In other words, they scan!

So how do you convey your message?  By recognizing the needs of the user and making the copy easy to scan!

A lot of testing has been done on how long it takes for the average web surfer to decide if they want to read your page or move on.  Most viewers have made a decision in three to five seconds [Source: Nielsen: Alertbox].

It’s your job to present the information in such a manner that you grab the web surfer’s attention before they make a decision to click away.

Image of KISSThe following guidelines from web content expert Erin Anderson in Interact with Web Standards will ensure your web pages are easy to scan and help you capture that elusive surfer:

Paragraphs should be concise
Each paragraph should only convey one idea and be less than 60 words.  As the reader scans, they will only miss one idea if they skip the paragraph.

Headlines should be short
Headings let the reader know that they are in the right place. They need to be engaging and use key words. They should be eight words less.

Subheadings should be brief
Subheadings, like headings, summarize the content that follows. They should be no longer than 12 to 14 words.

Use bulleted lists
Bullet lists can help you cut unnecessary copy and make it easier to read.

Don’t use numbered lists
Numbered lists should be used sparingly and only where they provide meaning like describing the steps in a process or a top 10 list.

Use headings to guide the reader through the page
Strategically place headings and subheadings can show hierarchy and the relative importance of the topics. They draw a reader’s eye and help them navigate the page. Also, good headings help web search engines improve your findability.

And finally, as with all writing, you need to use good web writing form. Lead with active words, use simple sentences and be succinct.

For more words of wisdom and best practices for writing for the web, check out these additional resources: