There are several usability issues, methods, and procedures that you need to consider when designing and developing new business web sites, regardless if you hire a professional for the design or attempt to build the site yourself.
Most important are issues relating to ’upfront’ decisions such as setting clear and concise goals for your web site, determining a professional and smart set of user requirements, ensuring that the new site meets user’s expectations, setting usability goals, and providing useful content within the niche you’ve chosen.
To ensure the best possible outcome, designers should consider a full range of user interface issues, and work to create a site that enables the best possible user experience.
The latest research suggests that the best way to begin the construction of a web site is to have many different people propose design solutions (parallel design), and then to follow up using an iterative design approach.
This requires conducting the appropriate usability tests and using the findings to make changes to the Web site.
Here are 12 important design considerations that every business owner ought to ponder as he/she begins the design process:
1) Provide Useful Content. Provide content that is engaging, relevant, and appropriate to the audience. Do not waste resources providing easy access and good usability to the wrong (irrelevant) content. Many users say that content is the most critical element in their choice of which web site to visit. Content is more important than navigation, visual design, interactivity, and even functionality.
2) Establish User Requirements. Use all available resources to better understand users’ requirements. The more information that can be exchanged between developers and users, the higher the probability of having a successful web site.
These could include customer support lines, customer surveys and interviews, bulletin boards, sales people, user groups, trade show experiences, focus groups, etc. Successful enterprise projects require at least four (and average five) different sources of information.
3) Understand and Meet User’s Expectations. Ensure that the web site format meets user expectations, especially related to navigation, content, and organization. Users often define ‘usability’ as their perception of how consistent, efficient, productive, organized, easy to use, intuitive, and straightforward it is to accomplish their desired tasks within the site.
The use of familiar formatting and navigation schemes makes it easier for users to learn and remember the layout of a site. It’s best to assume that a certain percentage of users will not use a site frequently enough to learn to use it efficiently. Therefore, using familiar conventions seems to often work best.
4) Involve Users in Establishing User Requirements. Involve users to improve the completeness and accuracy of user requirements. One of the basic principles of user-centered design is the early and continual focus on your prospect’s and customer’s needs.
Users are most valuable in helping designers know what a system should do, but not generally in helping designers determine how best to have the system do it. So ask your users what they would like to see in your web site – but rely on the professional designers to best incorporate their desires.
5) Set and State Goals. Identify and clearly articulate the primary goals of the new site before beginning the design process. Primary goals might be to educate, inform, entertain, sell, etc.).
Goals determine the audience to be focused on, the type of content, function, and the site’s unique look and feel. It is also a good idea to communicate the goals to, and develop consensus for the site goals from, management and those working on the web site.
6) Focus on Performance Before Preference. If user performance is important, make decisions about content, format, interaction, and navigation before deciding on colors and decorative graphics.
Focus on achieving a high rate of user performance before dealing with aesthetics. Graphics issues tend to have little impact, if any, on users’ success rates or speed of performance. However, graphics can help to make your site look professional, inviting, and comfortable!
7) Consider Many User Interface Issues. Consider as many user interface issues as possible during the design process. These can include: the context within which users will be visiting a site; the experience levels of the users; the types of tasks users will perform on the site; the types of computer and connection speeds used when visiting the site; evaluation of prototypes; and the results of usability tests.
8) Be Easily Found in the Top 30. In order to have a high probability of being accessed, ensure that a web site is in the ‘top 30’ returned results (SERPs) presented from a major search engine, especially Google.
One study showed that users usually do not look at Web sites that are not in the ’top 30’ or even the ‘top 20.’
Some of the features required to be in the ‘top 30’ include appropriate meta-content and page titles, the number of quality links to the site, proper and relevant keywords, as well as updated registration with the major search engines.
Don’t freak out if you site doesn’t immediately appear in the “top 30” results for your chosen keywords. It take time for new sites to be found, indexed by the search engines, and to climb the ranks of already established site. The popularity of the keywords the business ranks for will be critical – the more popular the keywords, generally the harder it will be to rank at the top of the SERPs (search engine results pages).
9) Set Usability Goals. Set performance goals that include success rates and the time it takes users to find specific information, or preference goals that address satisfaction and acceptance by users. It can also help make usability testing more effective. For example, some intranet Web sites have set the goal that information will be found eighty percent of the time and in less than one minute.
10) Use Parallel Design. Have several developers independently propose designs and use the best elements from each design.
Most designers tend to adopt a strategy that focuses on initial, satisfactory, but less than optimal, solutions. Group discussions of design issues (brainstorming) by design firms often do not lead to the best solutions.
The best approach is parallel design, where designers independently evaluate the design issues and propose solutions. The more varied and independent the ideas that are considered, the better the final product will typically be.
11) Use Personas. Personas will keep the design team focused on the same types of users. Personas are hypothetical ’stand-ins’ for actual users that drive the decision making for interfaces.
They are not real people, but they represent real people. They are not ’made up,’ but are discovered as a by-product of an investigative process with rigor and precision. Interfaces should be constructed to satisfy the needs and goals of personas.
Some usability specialists feel that designers will have far more success designing an interface that meets the goals of one specific person, instead of trying to design for the various needs of many.
It is usually best to detail two or three technical skills to give an idea of computer competency, and to include one or two fictional details about the persona’s life.
Keep the number of personas for each web site relatively small – use three to five. For each persona include at least a first name, age, photo, relevant personal information, and work and computer proficiency.
12) Make Sure You, as the Site Owner, Like What Your Site Represents. I know at least one online business owner that has told me he “hates” his web site even after paying thousands for the design and implementation of it. He says he regrets ever agreeing to many of the development elements – which he did because he figured the professional designers that created the site knew more than he did about what a “great business site” should look like. Don’t be afraid to voice your negative concerns about a new site design – you will be the one that has to live with it long after the developers get paid and go away!
By considering these web site design issues well in advance of beginning the development process, your new web site will be positioned to give your users the optimum browsing and site user experience.[Thanks is given to Research-Based Web Design and Usability Guidelines, U.S. Dept of HHS for these design considerations. This is not an original work of BusinessEmpires.com]
To you online business success,