Your Web Site Should Not Need a Manual

February 1st, 2003

by

Originally published in Unlimited

Usability. Boring but crucial, it’s about making your website easy and intuitive to use.

Users shouldn’t need to learn how to use your site. Put stuff where people expect it. Don’t put the navigation bar on the right or the bottom (www.fullyequipped.co.nz); or make non-clickable content indiscernible from clickable content (see www.sinalei.com). Don’t force users to hover their mouse over a button to see what it does (like the old bottle cap navigation on www.coke.co.nz). And never obscure the user’s browser toolbar (the bit that contains the back, forward and refresh buttons) like www.max.co.nz.

Designers like to show off and be different, but different isn’t always better on the web so be prepared to reel in your designer.

Here are some tips:

  • Have a search function on your site. Many people prefer searching by keyword rather than browsing.
  • Don’t have a “Flash” intro – a multimedia presentation that’s played upon entering your site. Your website is not a television commercial. If you had to sit through an ad every time you phoned a supplier, you’d soon be taking your business elsewhere.
  • Keep the navigation consistent across your site.
  • Include navigation on every page of your site. Visitors may find your site through a search engine so will not necessarily enter through your home page.
  • Place a “Contact us” link on every page. Don’t just link to your email address, provide a fill-in form, telephone number and postal and street address.
  • Use “breadcrumb navigation” to show the viewed page’s category and subcategory. Make each of those category levels a clickable link. Essentially you’re leaving a trail for users to follow so they can jump back a category or two without continually using the “Back” button. For example, at the top of its billing requests page, www.telecom.co.nz displays: Home page > Personal > How can we help? > Help with your bill > Billing requests.
  • Don’t use “frames”, where parts of the web page scroll but others stay fixed. Frames make it difficult, if not impossible, for users to bookmark your pages. Try bookmarking the membership page on www.aa.co.nz, for instance. Search engines don’t like frames, either.
  • Name things intuitively. www.coke.co.nz has a section called “Spill It” – not helpful.
  • Minimise the number of clicks required to perform important functions on your site, such as placing an order or making an enquiry. Amazon’s “1-Click Ordering” is the epitome of efficiency.

Want more? Read Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug, and Designing Web Usability and Homepage Usability by Jakob Nielsen.

By Stephan Spencer. This article first appeared on Unlimited in February 2003.

One Comment

  1. Artist Anika says:

    Here’s my question, and I have been doing research on this trying to find the answer. Why should you have a fill-in contact page rather than an About Us page with an email address? What’s better about the fill-in page? Either way, you have an un-optimized page, why is one preferable?

  2. by Artist Anika — May 13, 2008 @ 5:52 pm