Design & Usability principles

8 Design & Usability Principles You Can Apply to Your Website

Photo Credit: Peter Kubelka

While many web designers focus first on producing incredible graphics and using splashy colors, those in the know are making usability and utility their highest priorities. Once a site is extremely easy to comprehend and navigate, and when it is built to turn visitors into consumers, then you can turn your attention to making it visually attractive and stimulating. Get this sequence wrong and you are bound to suffer from lower overall page views and conversion rates that are poorer than your products, services or advertising might otherwise dictate. Get it right and enjoy a competitive edge, more return visitors, higher conversion and greater profitability. Those who maximize each visitor’s presence on their site are doing so by keeping usability front and center in every step of the design. Here are 8 principles to employ with diligence as you build every website.

1. Think Like a User as You Design

How do you peruse websites? Do you read everything or scan for key words that fit your goals? The latter, right? Do you want walls of text to read in order to discover the next step or big, fat buttons that say ‚ “click here for XYZ”? Again, the latter. Think about your own approach and study data that outlines how typical visitors navigate a site. Build intuitively and you will prosper.

2. Choose Load Speed over Pizzazz

Web users have become more savvy ‚ and they cannot be wowed by the look of your site. In fact, they don’t want to be if it means they have to wait for the graphics to load that you think are so awesome. They view it as a waste of time. Impatience plays a part, too when they know that there are other sites to view that may offer the same info or goods. They might think ‚ I’ll get back to that site if I don’t find what I’m looking for elsewhere… Kiss them goodbye for good. The vast majority will not be back.

3. Anticipate Their Questions and Answer Them

When a visitor lands on any site they first ask, “Is this the kind of site I’m looking for?” The first large text headline their eyes fall upon should explicitly state what your site or that page is about, like a headline on the Football Scores section of the sports page. Make sure there is room at the top for your website name so that they see it, even subconsciously, and it is stored in the memory bank. This makes it as easy as possible for them to find you again. Make it simple for each visitor to also answer:

  • “What action can I take here?”
  • “Why benefit is there in taking this action?”
  • “How can I take this action?”

If you present a clear path to the actions you want them to take the likelihood of them following through increase dramatically.

4. Follow Conventional Rules for Navigation

Novelties have their place but it is not in the way your site functions. For example, make hyperlinks blue and when they’ve already clicked them once change their color. Place menus at the top or at the left. There is a principle in web design that says, “Don’t make users think” Perhaps refining the point to say, “Don’t make users have to think about how to use your site so they can be thinking about your offers, content, products, etc.” is more true and more respectful of visitors. Disrespecting users by treating them like idiots won’t work well, either. Simply design your site to function like the majority of other sites and you won’t run afoul of this principle.

5. Design to Demographics

While keeping your design well within conventional norms you can customize it to your demographics. If older adults are the majority, then increase the font size a couple of points. If women are most of the audience use pastels more than black and silver. If kids comprise the bulk of your visitors ramp up the color intensity. The more focused your demographics the more specific your tailoring should be.

6. Keep it Straightforward and Uncluttered

Clutter is distracting and off-putting. Simplicity invites exploration because the user intuitively feels they’ll be easily able to find what they are looking for. Clean pages with crisp, larger headlines, text that can quickly be scanned, and clearly placed action steps are productive pages. Most website pages could use more white space because it serves to center attention where the designer wants it most.

7. Write for a Web Audience

The same person will read a magazine or non-fiction title differently than they will a website. Intelligence has little to do with it. The reader’s purpose is the key. Write clearly and succinctly. Wordiness should be eliminated. Write for clarity and understanding using a 6th-8th grade level of English. Short sentences that use common words are best. Avoid niche jargon that will turn off those who don’t understand it. It is also wise to break up content into shorter paragraphs with the use of more subheadings. This promotes a scannable approach to your site and will keep users from clicking away.

8. Constantly Test Changes and Keep Changing Till You Get It Optimized

Perhaps you will take some time to apply a few of these principles to your existing sites. When you do, be sure to test the results and use them to further tweak your site and pages until they are producing the type of results that meet or exceed your expectations. Test early and test often, as they say, when building a new site.

Studies show that users are more consistently converted on sites with optimized usability even when the products, information or services are deemed inferior in other tests. That’s got to make you think! Perhaps a few weeks spent applying the basic principles of effective web design from the perspective of the user is what your site needs to experience a significant boost in success. Keep track of lessons learned and continue to apply them on each new site and every added page.

During his time as a full time writer and analyst at an online supplier of ink cartridges, James has written on a wide range of subjects from the HP 300XL to arts and design on their blog.

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