Tuesday 22 May 2007

Usability & Aesthetics

Since the introduction of Web2.0, cutting edge website aesthetics seems to have taken a turn for the better. The minimalist look has come into fashion somewhat, and animated clipart seem to be appearing less. Unfortunately however with the increasing prevalence of broadband, the cross-link between aesthetics and usability seems to be weakening just as rapidly. Designs are becoming a lot more visually oriented, but people are taking less care in areas such as efficiency, speed and most importantly simplicity for website visitors.

According to Nielsen online research (March 2007), users spend on average 45 seconds at each website they visit. If this is the basis of comparison, then your visitors need to find what they're looking for on your site within at least 30 seconds (giving them time to actually read the information). If your website takes 20 seconds to finish loading, you're going to hope your visitors can find the page they're looking for within your site within 10 seconds. Once you start to apply these times to actual use, you can start to see how much difference it makes to have an efficiently built website. The difference between a page that loads in 5 seconds and one that takes 20 can be the difference between a visitor leaving to look elsewhere or providing what they need.

Far too many modern web designers have come out of college with graphic or multimedia design degrees and a load of experience producing eye-candy. Unfortunately these designers are also damaging the functionality of the world wide web. A website needs to be designed differently to a brochure or catalogue, the graphic heavy, high resolution, wow-factor designs are usually the same designs that make visitors sit and watch numbers tick away before they're allowed to start sifting through content. A website needs to be seen as a lot more than just a pretty picture. Efficient design takes into consideration the user appreciation for the branding of the company (ie that the site looks nice and visually pleasing), while not detracting from the performance of delivering content to the screen.

Visitors will visit a website because they want something, and the majority if the time this will have been determined before they even start typing your URL or the keywords into their favourite search engine. It may be as simple as finding a phone number, it might be to place an order, or it might be to research your company's work to learn something more of what you do. Whatever the reason, you want to make it clear how to find the information they're looking for. Pre-emptive design is a focus of the work Digerati Solutions offer. This style of design looks at the 80 percent brackets. Target the style, layout and function of your site so that 80% of your visitors will be able to find what they're looking for with 1 click (or at least know they're on the right track with 1 click). This involves adding aids such as quick link boxes which will allow visitors to jump directly to an area of interest.

The website visitor always needs to be the focus of any website. Your target demographic may determine the style of the design, but essentially, the functionality and 'flow' of the site (how the menus work) need to be intuitive and not stray too far from familiarity. People enjoy what is natural and obvious, so it makes sense to design and develop with that in mind.