Usability Tests! Have you heard? #Websitedesign

Dilbert Cartoon website design

“While I acknowledge that there is a need for art, fun, and a general good time on the web, I believe that the main goal of most web projects should be to make it easy for customers to perform useful tasks.”

(Jakob Nielsen, Designing Web Usability, p. 11.)

1. So why Usability Tests?

Usability tests are aimed to engage participants by writing task scenarios that are realistic, encourage an action and do not give away how the interface should be used.

Usability tests are one of the most effective ways of understanding what works and what doesn’t in doesn’t work in an interface by watching how people use it.

The idea is to choose the right participants who will attempt realistic activities where qualitative insights into what is casing users to have trouble can be identified. This helps to improve design and alongside it user experience. Additionally, “you can measure the percentage of tasks that users complete correctly as a way to communicate a site’s overall usability.” (McCloskey 2014)

 2. Designing a Website

Before designing a website one is first advised to ask the fundamental question : what purpose is it going to serve in people’s lives? In addition, how to make sure the design is easy to use and understand for the target audience.

These fundamental questions are only a few of the key challenges that web developers are faced with when tackling a web project and one must take note of the vast difference between web and print design. Those who may view web design through the lens of print design may be mistaken as the screen medium differs greatly to print. This is true to the fact as websites are constantly evolving there are millions of different decisions to be made in order to optimise user experience.

In short, the anticipated goals of the art of web design are questions such as: does the website resonate with people? Do they get something out of it? Do they learn from it? As well as, does is help them move to action?

To make sure you achieve your optimal website goals, it is most important to follow key usability heuristics where the “most general principles for interaction design, which called “heuristics” because they are more in the nature of rules of thumb than specific usability guidelines.” Nielsen (2000) These ten usability heuristics for User Interface Design by Jakob Nielsen are as follows:

 1. Visibility of system status: is focused on the idea that the system should always keep users informed in what’s going on though appropriate feedback and reasonable time. As an example it is best practice to include progress bars to let the user know how long it will take for a certain action to complete.

2. There also needs to be a match between the system and the real world: this focuses on where the system speaks user’s language with “words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user rather than system-orientated words”. (Harrison 2014). Also, a need to follow real life conventions where information appears in a natural and a logical order.

3. User control and freedom: it is known fact that that users choose system functions by mistake where this calls the need to have a clearly marked “emergency exit” to leave the unwanted state which can be supported by undo and redo. In addition, you can include the back button as well as breadcrumbs which allow the user to trace its steps and go back to the point in time that relates to their original search.

 4. Consistency and Standards: bias should be eliminated where users should not have to wonder whether words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. It needs to follow platform conventions where it is advisable to use CSS as well as have hyperlinks in blue text. In addition, previously clicked hyperlinks in purple text.

5. Error Prevention Good and careful design prevents a problem from occurring in the first place, however to eliminate prior-prone conditions one must check for them as well as present users with a confirmation option before they commit to an action. To prevent errors you need to give out clear instructions, highlight mandatory fields and remove or grey out choices.

6. Recognition rather than recall This principle focuses on a need to minimize user’s memory load by making objects, actions and options visible. The user should not have to remember large amounts of information from one dialogue to another where instructions for use of the system should be visible or easily retrievable. This is due to Miller’s Law of Magic 7 where the arguments highlights that individuals are not able to contain 7 (plus or minus 2) items in their short-term memory.

7. Flexibility and Efficiency of use This principle focuses on ensuring that the website is tailored to different types of users. Accelerators which are unseen by the novice user may speed up the interaction for the expert user such that the system can cater both for the inexperience and experience user. This calls for the need to allow users to tailor frequent actions. As an example of some accelerators are as follows: shortcuts for experienced/ frequent users, keyboards shortcuts, history of interaction, stored values, defaults as well as saved searches.

8. Aesthetic and minimalist design Moving further, keeping in mind that good design is not about bells and whistles, dialogues should not contain information, which is irrelevant or rarely needed. Less is more and one should minimize all distractions. One should appropriately direct attention to key interactions points and avoid extraneous content.

9. Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors Error messages “should be expressed in plain language (no codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.” There is a need to have concise feedback messages, which are in plain English, and no syntax used as well as the offer of some direction.

10. Help and Documentation It may be necessary to provide help and documentation. This information should be easy to search, focused on the user’s task, list concrete steps to be carried out, and not be too large. Even though users don’t like reading manuals and prefer spending time while working towards a task goal, manuals and online help are vial where the user is frustrate or in crisis. Help should be: searchable, context-sensitive, task-oriented, concrete and concise.

In addition, to the 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design factors, also important to consider the readability of a website, site navigability, accessibility and speed. In terms of readability user should be able to identify what each block of information represents and which call to action it offers. Heat maps should be taken into account as well as the 3-second rule in relation to the speed of a page uploading.

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