What do you think the questions are, in the heads of users, when they're looking at your site?
Your job is to answer them.
If you can't make things self-evident, at least make them self-explanatory.
We don't really read pages. We scan them:
We 'satisfice' or, that is, we make choices that are simply good enough:
We're muddling through, anyway. Who needs a manual?! Does it work or not? These are low stakes.
'On the Internet, the competition is always just one click away, so if you frustrate users they'll head somewhere else.'
Don't try to reinvent the wheel—conventions help people know where to look and what to do while they're in automatic mode.
'If your audience is going to act like you're designing billboards, then design great billboards.'
Clarity > Consistency
'If you can make something significantly clearer by making it slightly inconsistent, choose in favor of clarity.'
Good visual hierarchies help us parse content quickly. We want to keep the noise down by breaking pages into clear areas or sections.
We also want to make liberal use of headlines and properly formatted text to support scanning. Shorter paragraphs and bullet points do well.
How ambiguous are you making links? Do things just make sense when you look at them?
'In general, I think it's safe to say that users don't mind a lot of clicks as long as each click is painless and they have continued confidence that they're on the right track, following what's often called the "scent of information."'
If you need to give guidance on how to use any part of your site, make sure it it brief, timely and unavoidable.
Fewer words means less noise, it means its easier to read and therefore more useful (and usable).
A culprit of this is 'happy talk', a sort of nonsense light conversation that nobody needs, wittering away at the top.
Another is useless and bloated instructions for straightforward tasks. Nobody reads them.
Users tend to be either search dominant or link dominant. (Although, in later years, I think this has now moved towards sites that are more search dominant or link dominant.)
For those that are link dominant, having good navigation is important. Websites have no sense of scale, direction or location. Navigation is the only thing that delivers this to the user.
'People won't use your web site if they can't find their way around it.'
Web navigation is the website, so it better be good. It tells us:
Page names and breadcrumbs help us to locate ourselves and give context for where we are.
Page names need to match the links we click (in nav, anyway). Otherwise we can feel somewhat cheated.
It's always helpful to highlight the current location, and highlight where we've been (links that show up a different colour).
Users have 4 big questions on arrival to a homepage:
The first seconds are critical. Make sure there's a message on your homepage:
Taglines under logos can be handy for communicating things (but this is a style that is far out of fashion, now).
Don't kill your golden goose by overstuffing your homepage.
Usability tests are not focus groups. At all. Focus groups ask questions to 5-10 people in an open-ended fashion. Usability tests focus on observing the actions taken by 1 person at a time.
One early, mediocre test is better than 50 done right at the end. Here's how you should aim to do it, though:
You're not gathering data to try and prove anything, you're getting pointers at what you need to improve the big things.
'Even the worst test with the wrong user will show you important things you can do to improve your site.'
How to run a usability test:
Immediately meet with your team to agree the top problems to fix off the back of the test, then set to work on fixing them.