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!!

Rocket Surgery Made Easy

Picture of Rocket Surgery Made EasySteve Krug has done it again! The highly respected usability consultant has written a sequel to his very successful book on usability Don’t Make Me Think.  While his first book focused on usability design, this new book focuses on usability testing and, once again, Krug grabs your attention with his new title, Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems.

If you have read Krug’s first book, then you are familiar with his informal while engaging writing style. As with his first book, Rocket Surgery Made Easy is purposefully kept short and, as you can assume from its title, quite a humorous read.

Krug divides the book into two parts focusing on both the testing and what to do after the test. The first part is called “Finding Usability Problems” and contains the nuts and bolts about conducting usability tests.  It not only includes valuable information concerning the execution of the tests but also includes actual samples of scripts, forms and checklists.

The second part is called “Fixing Usability Problems” and addresses what to do with the information you’ve collected. Krug basically advocates two approaches to fixing your usability problems:  “tweak, don’t redesign” and “take something away”.

Tweak, Don’t Redesign

Krug cautions about the temptation to redesign when confronted with a usability issue.  Small tweaks and fixes just don’t provide the same satisfaction as a redesign.  However, small tweaks are usually quick and easy to implement and do not have the risk of being sidetracked or never finished.

Take Something Away

The reason many sites are difficult to navigate is because they are too busy. The users cannot find what they are looking for because they have too much stuff to go through. By removing some of the “noise”, it makes what is left easier to find. You can fix a problem by literally taking something away.

Krug points out early in his book that this method is not intended for all development projects. Where life and death situations are dependent on the usability of the interface (i.e. hospital systems, etc.) he recommends engaging a usability professional. However, in those situations where you cannot hire a professional, this book will definitely help you make your site more usable.