Why Usability is Important for Web Design

By Jessica Ann
January 29, 2014

Any new web design is an opportunity to start fresh. It’s the perfect time to re-evaluate your goals and what your site is truly supposed to do. Many businesses have an established brand, and those who don’t are keen to develop one so they’re instantly recognizable to clients and prospects alike. It may be easy then, in the rush to make your mark on the Internet, to rely on your own aesthetic judgment, inspiration and ideas for web design trends in 2014.

Usability concept in tag cloud

But web design should never be based primarily on the preferences of the designer or the business. Those can and should play an important role, but the true star of the show should be usability.

Usability is so important, in fact, that even the government has gotten in on the discussion. Over at Usability.gov you will find in-depth, research-based resources for learning and implementing usability on your site.

So, then, what the heck is “usability” in the world of web design?

Usability refers to the ease with which an intended visitor can learn what your site is about and make use of it for its intended purpose. It’s important because every website has a purpose, and a frustrated visitor is going to leave and probably isn’t going to come back. So the easier it is to discover your site’s purpose and use your site for that purpose, the happier your visitors.

Many of the tips and tricks you’ll find about usability in web design boil down to one very simple requirement:

Be Crystal Clear.

Simplicity is what you might call the “Golden Rule” of usability in web design. It means your users should have an enjoyable and productive experience, whether that means learning something, converting to a customer or just getting to know your brand. And, as it turns out, following that rule will also make your site prepared for success on a number of other fronts, as well.

For example, building a usable site forces you to decide the nature of your content, the focus of your topics and whom exactly you are hoping to reach with your site. These are all vital aspects of building a business and a website. But they are often overlooked in the rush to launch a site. Dedication to usability will keep you on the path to building the most effective website not only from a design perspective, but from a content development and target audience perspective, as well.

Also, sites designed with usability in mind employ headings, menus, topic-specific pages to get their message across to visitors. It just so happens that these things also help your site look more attractive to search engines. As search engines scour the web for original, engaging content, they keep an eye out for big-picture indicators like headings because they signal an organized, well thought out website.

In addition, designing with usability front and center also makes it easier to produce an accessible website. Accessibility is the measure of how easy it is for people with certain motor and sensory impairments to use your website. That includes keeping in mind visitors with vision impairments, those unable to use a mouse, and many other limitations on how someone can interact with a website. The intersection of usability and accessibility is well-known and because the two topics are related, you can maximize your potential audience by referring to both concepts as you design your site.

So there you have it: usability is important for web design because users who have a great experience will convert, and help you build that ever-important brand.

What questions do you have about usability? Please comment below.





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2 Responses to “Why Usability is Important for Web Design”

  1. UXadvocate Says:

    Thanks for the great article, Jen! I agree that it’s so important for a web designer to focus on usability principles. However, it’s also very important to test our concepts and designs in front of a live audience. Even teams with UX Designers often employ User Researchers to help see the usability theories in practice, to get real user feedback based on targeted demographic participants, and make our designs even better and easier to use. If your company doesn’t have a researcher, though, you can run your design mockups past friends or inpartial colleagues. Or, you can recruit several of your target demographic by running a small screening survey and then having the users go through a set of tasks. Usability.gov has some really helpful tips on how to run a usability study! Or, these days you can even get the help of a company that specializes in helping companies set up, run and even analyze user studies for you. Userlytics.com, a company I’ve just started doing a little work for, is one of the ala carte UX solutions companies to emerge in the last several years. There are so many options out there that it doesn’t make sense not to test your designs in at least some way. Usually, I think as a usability-focused designer you’ll find a confirmation of most of the principles you’re employing, plus some highly specific feedback pertaining to your website as a bonus. :) Just my 2 cents!

  2. Sarel Jan Says:

    As a usability designer it’s great to see posts stressing the importance of designing a website with usability first and looks second. It doesn’t matter how good it looks if people can’t use it.

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