One of the most fundamental aspects of web design to consider when planning a new site is that of ‘web usability’. This is the process of making your website intuitive and simple to use, so that users can reach the information they seek in the shortest possible amount of time. A few key features to consider are:
Clear sign posting
It is important from a web usability point of view, that a user on your website knows exactly where they are within your site at all times, and also that they know exactly what information is being presented to them.
For this reason it is vital that each page has an informative title across the top of the page, together with a clear system of sub titles throughout the page so that users can jump to the information that they need as quickly as possible. Proper use of page titles, descriptions and headers within the page is very important SEO (search engine optimization) practice.
Your website navigation should be simple to use, with a list of main sections available via the primary navigation menu which will remain static across all pages, and will usually reside across the top or down the left hand side. Any sub menus will then follow a consistent pattern, ideally staying in the same position throughout the site so as to avoid confusion.
Any page within your site should ideally be accessible via no more than three clicks from the home page. If the website has multiple sections and sub sections it is advisable to add a ‘bread crumb’ navigation within the page. This serves two purposes, first of all it gives the user a clear indication of where they are within the site, and secondly it offers an easy navigation to previous pages.
The ability to search for keywords or information within your site is an extremely valuable tool for new users to your site. This gives users a quick and convenient way of reaching their target page within the website. This is especially useful on much larger sites, consider for example the amount of time you might waste on site like Wikipedia, should you have to browse through each category to find the information you were looking for.
Another key area from a usability point of view is a website is a site map. There will sometimes be people coming to your website that don’t know exactly what they are looking for. In this instance they can then take the opportunity to view the site map, which will ideally give them a clear list of all the pages and sections within the site. They may then stumble across something useful that they were not necessarily looking for in the first place.
Site maps are also extremely useful from a SEO point of view. This is because it ensures that the search engine has a clear list of all the pages and importantly a route in which to reach them. A site map can either be a HTML page (essential for web users), an XML map or simply a text map.
Page layout and images
The final point that we are going to consider in this article is the layout of the page. It is important to keep the attention of the visitor; this can be done by limiting the volume of text that is presented at any one time. You should try and break large pieces of text up using visually stimulating images, or by adding white space where necessary.
The phrase ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ has never been more true, if you can convey a message using a diagram or an interesting chart or cartoon, you are much more likely to keep the user on the page, than if you simply listed two full pages of text.
In summary, if you spend a small amount of time at the outset of any web design project, considering how a user might interact with the eventual site, the site will undoubtedly become more successful in the future.