Usability

Overview

Web pages should be easy to use and content understandable by the average user.  The purpose of usability is to design websites that allow visitors to the site to complete a task, solve a problem, express an opinion, or find an answer to a question quickly and easily. The purpose of the website should be self-evident to the user. Poor web page design leads to wasted time, reduced productivity, increased frustration, loss of confidence, inaccuracies, and loss of repeat visits.

Important problems that usability addresses include:

  • Irrelevant search engine results
  • Site navigation that is inconsistent and not readily apparent to the user
  • Use of program jargon, acronyms and bureaucratic language
  • Content that is not written for the web
  • Difficult to read web pages

Implementing Usability

Usability is an important component throughout the lifecycle of a project. From planning through maintenance, usability principles must be applied to ensure a site is living up to its full potential. Thorough analysis of an existing site and consideration of the site’s goals, and understanding users and their needs are critical to kick-starting usability.

Certain usability exercises need to be conducted on existing sites to establish a baseline from which to build.

Testing end users on a site during the development process will help ensure that goals are being met, navigation and content are on track and development work can proceed.

Ensuring a Site Is Usable

Involving users throughout the development lifecycle of the site and incorporating their feedback will ensure usability is properly implemented.

The best way to ensure a site is usable is to conduct user testing with multiple users. Only after the majority of the users accomplish the tasks asked of them during a usability test do you know the site works for your agency. There are some checklists available such as Heuristic Evaluation and exercises that can help verify a site’s usability, but nothing replaces real users.

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