From a marketing perspective, good web design equals usability plus persuasion. It’s about how users behave versus how we’d like them to behave.
Jacob Nielsen has been called the smartest man on the web. He holds 79 U.S. Patents in the area of usability in web interface design. When he speaks the online community listens.
His 10 Heuristics of User Interface Design are widely regarded as the holy grail when it comes to understanding how people interact with machines and are used to perform usability audits world-wide.
A website Usability Audit tests the usability, efficiency and effectiveness of a website by checking it against Neilsen’s 10 heuristics (rules of thumb). Read on for an explanation of each usability heuristic:
1. Visibility of System Status
The user should always know what is happening, when it’s happening and understand it intuitively.
For example: If something is loading, display a loading icon, or show a progress bar if the user is working through a process like filling out a survey.
2. Match Between System and the Real World
Speak to the user in plain English (if that’s what they speak). Don’t use any unnecessary jargon, they won’t be impressed, they can go elsewhere in a click to get what they need.
Organise information as it would be in the real world, think logically. This will make your site feel familiar and comfortable.
3. User Control and Freedom
Web users are used to navigating around the web unrestricted. They often navigate to pages or functions by accident and expect to return to where they were immediately. The user must feel in control or they will leave the site at the slightest sign of difficulty.
Provide a clear back-arrow as a form of emergency exit and support undo and redo functions.
4. Consistency and Standards
Yours isn’t the first website your users have visited. Follow standard practice where possible.
Creative, beautifully designed buttons for ‘play’, ‘next’ and ’email’ are useless if the user has to think about them for more than a split second. Familiar is best.
5. Error Prevention
Ever wondered why a filing cabinet won’t let you open the top two drawers together? It’s to stop it falling over. This form of error prevention is called a poka-yoke.
Preventing a website user from making an error is far better than trying to fix it later.
Insert poka-yokes into your website for fewer frustrated visitors.
For Example: If creating an account password on your site needs 8 spaces, a capital letter and a number – tell the user if they haven’t done this straight away.
Don’t wait for them to fill in the whole form, click submit and then have to go through it all again.
6. Recognition Rather Than Recall
Don’t expect users to retain any special information from your site.
Use obvious icons and prompts he already knows. If he has entered information on a different page that he may need again provide a direct route back.
7. Flexibility and Efficiency of Use
The novice and expert will use your system very differently. Short cuts, or accelerators, help expert users to navigate a website faster.
For example: an experienced user may know exactly where to find what he’s looking for in your information architecture, while the novice may prefer a search function.
This principle is perhaps more clearly explained through keyboard short cuts in a software application like Photoshop or Word. The novice will get along fine using the mouse to point and click, while an expert will use keyboard short cuts to instantly pull up the tools he needs.
8. Aesthetic and Minimalist Design
This is self explanatory. Using too many widgets and buttons on a web page can dilute the users attention, distracting him from from the call to action or successful navigation.
While the website should be visually pleasing, a busy design or background image for example can be distracting.
9. Help Users Recognize, Diagnose, and Recover from Errors
Deliver messages about errors in plain English rather than a code they don’t understand.
For example: If a user enters his whole address on the first address line of a form, the error message should read:
Please enter your address as follows:
Line 1: Street
Line 2: town etc
Again, it is better to avoid this where possible as outlined in heuristic 5.
10. Help and Documentation
As web systems become more advanced, it is less common for a user to need any help or documentation.
However if your site asks the user to perform a complex undertaking (like Dell) or offers a software product (like anti-virus) your user may need further assistance to carry out his task.
The help section should be easy to search and understand and it should open in a separate window. Customer service chat boxes are also becoming very common and fit this heuristic perfectly.
I hope you found the above helpful.
The following video will further explain Nielsen’s 10 Heuristics:
Thank you for reading.