I like good-looking websites as must as the next person, however we won’t accept a great-looking website at the expense of usability. A website with a beautiful doorway page (click here to enter) will not get my business. If it isn’t obvious where I should click next to find what I’m looking for I’ll probably go check the next site in my search results page.
I have read Steve Krug’s book on website usability Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (3rd Edition) (Voices That Matter) several times and I never fail to come away with a new outlook on some aspect of website design. On the first page of the first chapter he says:
People often ask me:
“What’s the most important thing I should do if I want to make sure my Web site is easy to use?”
The answer is simple. It’s not “Nothing important should ever be more than two clicks away,” or “Speak the user’s language,” or even “Be consistent.”
It’s “Don’t Make Me think!”
If your website is hard to use – if visitors have to think about where they have to go next to find what they are looking for – then they won’t use it. It’s as simple as that. Remember – your competition is just one click away.
Krug talks about characteristics of website design that should be obvious but are often ignored. For one, he urges us to not get cute with our navigation labels. The Internet has been around long enough now that ‘accepted practices’ have been established for labeling menu items. Everyone knows that ‘Home’ takes you to the front page of your website, yet I still see people using the label ‘Front Page’ or ‘Start’. Your website probably has several menu items, but are they self-explanatory to someone not intimately involved in your industry? Why have a menu item that says ‘Job-o-Rama’, or ‘Employment Opportunities or ‘Job Board’ when a simple ‘Jobs’ will convey all the information the visitor requires?
If you are involved with website design or you are considering developing a website for your business and you have not read Krug’s book, you are missing out on an extremely valuable resource. It is a paperback book, only 185 pages long, and packed with website usability wisdom. Krug also has a companion book, Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems
in which he lays out ways that you as a website owner or developer can do your own usability testing to see if your website is capable of providing the visitor experience that you intend.