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Back to School: Design Usability

All of us have encountered websites that are painful to use. We know what doesn't work, and we might even have said "This site would work better if..." but how many of us have examined our own websites with these thoughts in mind? Maybe it's time for a fresh look. Eliana Stavrou takes you through the basic issues of design usability.

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By: Eliana Stavrou
Rating: 4 stars4 stars4 stars4 stars4 stars / 19
January 05, 2005
  1. · Back to School: Design Usability
  2. · Usability principles
  3. · More usability principles
  4. · Evaluation Questionnaire

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Back to School: Design Usability - Usability principles
(Page 2 of 4 )

How many times have you visited a Web page that contains so much information that you end up looking around without finding what you need, although it may be right under your nose? When Iím visiting such pages I usually pass over them, since I donít want to waste my time. After all, all this information is replicated across so many websites that you may find exactly the same information at the next Web page you visit. As Jakob Nielsen, one of the earliest usability concept experts stated, ďUsability rules the Web. Simply stated, if the customer can't find a product, then he or she will not buy it.Ē

Nowadays, more and more companies are realizing the importance of Web design usability in improving their existing website. This trend has driven website designers to move back to basics in order to help keep users on the site (and generate money for the company in the process).

In the next few paragraphs I will discuss some general principles for user interface design developed by Jakob Nielsen. I often use these principles myself to design websites. It is important to develop the concept around the design and purpose of the website before you create the actual pages. Also, it is useful to adopt the usersí perspective of what they expect to find or do on the site.

Visibility of system status

It is important to have appropriate mechanisms in place to inform the users about the status of the system. Remember that users are impatient and will leave your site if it takes too much time to complete an action, especially if they donít know its progress. For example, during a search you could present a percentage progress window so that users will know how much time the search needs to complete.

Parallels between the system and the real world

Users will easily find their way through your website if they can associate the environment (text, graphics, etc.) with real-world conventions. The interface of the website should relate to our own experiences and previous knowledge. For example, a basket cart image is associated with a real shopping cart and an envelop image is associated with mail correspondence, especially email. Through these associations you could make the use and navigation of the website pleasant so that the user will spend more time on your website (thus more $$).

User control and freedom

The users need their space to perform their job well. Users need mechanisms in place so that they can control the system -- for example, an easy way to return to the home page from any location they currently are within the website. Another example is the provision of the navigation path that indicates to the user where he or she is on the site, starting from the home page. It is a good practice to carefully design the navigation within your website so that users will feel they have some kind of control or freedom to make the site do what they need it to do.


When designing your website, try to maintain a level of consistency. For example, use the same overall design among the Web pages. Consistency will help your users and make them feel more comfortable on your site; they won't have to wonder if different design elements, words or actions mean the same thing. If something happens, particularly something that can confuse your visitors, then you have probably lost them. Remember that your competitor is just a click away.

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