The U is for Usability.
What is usability you may ask, as defined by www.usability.gov (the U.S. Government Department of Health & Human Services usability website) :
“Usability measures the quality of a user’s experience when interacting with a product or system—whether a Web site, a software application, mobile technology, or any user-operated device.
In general, usability refers to how well users can learn and use a product to achieve their goals and how satisfied they are with that process. Usability, as defined by Joseph Dumas and Janice (Ginny) Redish, means that people who use the product can do so quickly and easily to accomplish their tasks. Usability may also consider such factors as cost-effectiveness and usefulness.”
Usability was really brought to the forefront by Jakob Nielsen at www.useit.com. Jakob takes a scientific approach to usability and has some excellent research on his site pertaining to how people interact with a website.
Usability in my view is just how to make a website that’s easy for people to use and navigate. If we give visitors an easy to get the information they seek we’ve done our job. Give the user a reason to contact you and they will. The reason should be the information. Let them know they are in the right place with the right information. Does that mean we need a 30 second Flash entrance page? Does that make it easy for the user to get the information needed…probably not. The internet breeds impatiance, people want to get in, get info, and get out. If I’m looking for information on a wobble washer do you think I want to be entertained with a jumping robot or talking virtual person. I hope you answered no.
There are probably some of you that are expecting me to bash Flash here. Well your wrong…and right. I think Flash is a great way to add interest to a website. Flash is useful as a element of the site that doesn’t contain crucial information such as logos, navigation, or other important user information. Flash has no usability if it can’t be seen. We covered this in my previous accessibility post. Part of usability is giving visitors what they want when they want it…not after your Flash animation loads.
Here is an excerpt from my “Guide to What REALLY Matters in web design” post.
Navigation can make a good website…or can kill a good website. Do you remember being a kid and getting lost in a store?…I do. It’s no fun in a website either. Navigation should be clear and CONSISTENT on each page…oh…one more thing….DON’T forget the freakin’ HOME button. The home button is Mommy…it’s your way home when your lost in the store…and don’t hide it in small text up in the header. It’s the second most used button besides the browsers back button. Now the consistent part. When visitors come to your site, you educate them on where your navigation is and how it works…don’t switch it up on them…that’s just mean. What about drop-down navigation, sometimes even with a slide-out? I’ll only do this when a customer demands it. When I use my laptop, I don’t always use a mouse…I use the touchpad. Ever try to navigate and trace one of these drop-down slide-out monsters with your finger? GOOD LUCK.
Hopefully this helped explain that usability is really just about making a website usable to a user and not using bad usability just to use cool stuff that will lose the user. Now that wasn’t a very usable sentence was it. This really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to usability. I invite everyone to investigate the websites noted above for the complete scoop on usability.