We get asked all the time “what do you think of my website?”.
Our first reply is that you shouldn’t care what we think, that is unless we are your intended audience. Like all good communications channels, a website should meet the needs of its target audiences – a website is the story book; it is not the story.
While there is general online “best practice” that has been developed over time, usability should be dictated by how the target audiences view a website. True best practice involves tailoring content and UX to ensure that it meets your audiences specific needs, while at the same time delivering a consistent experience with your brand.
When discussing the development of websites bear in mind that they are primarily a communications delivery vehicle (learn about my company, buy my product, watch a film). All too often people get caught up in the technology and this becomes the driver, rather than the enabler, which is what it should be.
With the internet enabling real-time access to information at the touch of a button through a constantly shifting online landscape, communicating effectively online has become more important than ever.
It is critical that a holistic approach to website development is taken and that it is an integral part of the wider marketing and communication strategy. We list below the key areas that we review when judging user experience. It is important that they are all considered and that strong performance in one area does not compromise the performance in others.
The “experience” a user has of a website is influenced by many things, but a first impression will be how easily it meets the immediate need they have and then logically meet possible follow-on needs based on fulfilling the original purpose. Many elements impact the usability of a website, but primarily we are talking about its information architecture. This includes the structure of the website, but also how all information on the website is structured, from navigation to on page content. How information is structured on the website will change depending on the device the website is being accessed from.
As with all communications, content is king. And by content we do not just mean copy. The content of a website is everything that is being served to the user: copy, images, video, animation, graphics, illustrations, downloadable files etc. It is critical that this content has been developed or optimised for use on a website and is device appropriate. Web content should be active with easy to complete calls to action and directional sign-posting, helping users through the web journey. The content needs to be right for the target audiences, error free and avoid ROT (redundant, out-of-date and trivial). There is a huge amount of research on how people read and interact with content online, but the key is to know who your audiences are and how they use your content.
Unlike most graphic design, good design for web is information design. Web design is the design of the elements on the page, rather than the page itself. The key is to ensure that the user has a consistent and interesting visual experience that reflects the organisation’s brand experience, is appropriate for the specific task at hand but does not distract from or confuse the content being delivered. Design plays a huge role in the usability of a website and in turn the users experience of a website.
This is how a user interacts with your website. It is critical that every component of your website works quickly and correctly. Broken or poorly constructed components will not only leave your users frustrated and disillusioned, but probably will result in their looking elsewhere and relating their web experience across all other areas of your brand interactions. Across the spectrum, everything should work as expected, including hyperlinks, contact forms, site search, event registration and bookings, ecommerce and so on. Another important consideration is that users will interact differently with a website depending on the device they are using.
This really is just scratching the surface of developing or judging a website, but we hope that you’ve found it interesting. If you’re thinking about developing your website or would like to learn more about our approach to website development, get in touch we’d love to hear from you!