Effective Web Site Usability by Amrit Hallan

The other day I saw this photograph in a magazine which showed a steaming tea kettle, with its handle on the same side as its nozzle [or the mouth, or whatever it is called], with a caption, “A Sadistic Product Design.” In the same way, there are sites that are, sometimes it seems, specifically designed to give you the jitters, despite having the relevant content.
As a person who has just started designing web sites, I have some ideas about usability of a web site which I’m going to present pointwise.

1. The Zen of web designing [have any idea who he/she is?] says that a visitor should be able to reach every major section of your web site in two or three clicks, and should definitely be able to make a purchase within three clicks. The Amazon guys got so carried away with the clicking business that they have, if I’m rightly informed, patented the “one-click” purchase method. So “usable” navigability is of utmost importance.

2. Each section of your web page should be visually distinct and easily recognizable, and if you can, well within the conventions. I mean, I shouldn’t have to play with the Tree of, “Click and Find the Hidden Treasure” in order to find the section of my interest. Within five to ten seconds, I should be able to recognize which link takes me where.

3. Don’t use technical terms that go over the head just to sound smart if your target customers are non-technical, and don’t sound over simple if your target customers are the techies. Do proper research into the psyche of your target market – their educational and cultural background, their purchasing power and habits, etc. If your customers want to play around, play around with them, and if they just want to do business, just do business.

4. Proper color combination and font-sizing is very vital. I have often seen pages with yellow background and parrot-green text, or a black background with dark-gray text. I really don’t know what they were trying to prove. Recently a web site was recommended to me by a friend from an online web developer’s discussion group when I wanted to do some reading on Cascading Style Sheets. It took me more then fifteen minutes to realize that I’d have to change the default font size of my browser to be able to read the microscopic text. Sadly, its content is great, and I made so much effort because I REALLY needed to read that. A casual user will surely leave it, obfuscated.

5. Please don’t assume that if you have a T3 connection then all your users have it too. Sometimes what happens is that the designers work on a site from their offices where they have faster connections compared to the domestic ones, and somehow this fact takes a back seat when they are running amuck with the DLLs and the applets. Average connection speed lies between 28-36 KBPS. Design your site according to this if you are designing for general public.

6. Always use text alternatives to your graphic links. What I usually do is, when I see a text link, and can figure out what it does, I do not wait for the image to load. This must be happening with most of the surfers. And many veterans turn off the graphic options of the browser, so that only text links are visible.

7. Please keep the users informed about unpredictable events. If some feature is going to take some time to download, warn before the process starts. If a link is going to start a new window, tell it before-hand. If you want to incorporate an earth shattering, blood curdling scream into a certain page, kindly notify so that some one doesn’t die of shock. No, really. Once I stumbled into a site that triggered a diabolical laughter at 2 a.m. My mom almost had a heart attack and as a result, I was banned from surfing the net for more than a month. I remember it was a jokes site.

8. Keep the design of your web site consistent. If you have a bluish theme, keep it that way. Do not change the background and font color schemes with every second page. This disturbs the visitor, and you might give the impression of a highly unstable person.

9. Keep the content and the screen size within the window. Do not make the visitor scroll left-right-right-left in order to read long textual matter. It’s highly irritating and one can’t read beyond a few paragraphs without loosing concentration.

Ok, enough of these points. I’m almost turning it into a tutorial, or one of those SPILLING THE BEANS FREE REPORTS [that would have otherwise cost me $140 or so] I keep getting every day. In the end it all boils down to, letting people know what to do, and how to do it, within a few seconds of their arrival on your web site.

Copyright ©2001 Amrit Hallan. Amrit Hallan is a freelance web designer. For all web site development and web promotion needs, you can get in touch with him at
amrit@bytesworth.com. For more such articles, visit http://www.bytesworth.com/articles You can subscribe to his newsletter [BYTESWORTH REACHOUT] on Web Designing Tips & Tricks by sending a blank email atbytesworth-subscribe@topica.com

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