As the Internet continues to play a greater role in everyday life, websites have become increasingly complex visually and functionally. Ten years ago, many websites were generally text heavy pages punctuated by clip art and animated GIFs. That’s because the language of the web was much simpler and there were major constraints on bandwidth. And with those limitations, usability and user experience were largely limited.

Thankfully we live in a very different world today. Particularly in the US, many of those limitations are quickly disappearing – in fact, the next generation of mobile data services are exponentially faster than dial-up, not to mention the proliferation of broadband access. Yet with this greater freedom comes a correlating responsibility to preserve usability.

The challenge of usability

All of these changes have only served to highlight a very clear need in web development services – the user experience. And a major benchmark of successful web design is the quality of the end-user experience. Can users navigate the site efficiently? Can they find relevant content quickly? Are the features of the site responsive?

A common mistake in web design is to design only for the brand, when in reality it’s the user who will be the one making decisions about where to navigate, what to look at, and how quickly to move on to another section or site. And while it’s important to create visually compelling experiences and well branded solutions, it can be easy to overlook this simple principle: if a site’s users can’t find what they’re looking for, are frustrated by unintuitive interfaces, or don’t find that interface responsive, they will leave.

Designing with the consumer in mind

In the real world, the equivalent of poor usability would be designing a store’s floor plan so that the merchandise is located on the first floor, support is located on the second floor, and checkout is located on the third floor. That’s bad enough – then imagine there were only stairs and no elevator. You can bet that no customer will be staying there for very long, and eventually practical constraints (e.g. a city code) will demand some changes.

Of course, one of the things on the web that makes it so appealing – freedom – is also the same thing that makes it more difficult to spot similar problems online. For the majority of the web experience, regulations similar to city codes just don’t exist. But they don’t need to – the web is the ultimate democracy. Your users are that governing body making rulings (judgment calls) about your site, and they will vote with their presence about whether your site is usable or not. Visitors will reward good practices because they work, and they will avoid (and certainly not recommend) sites that are difficult to use.

Usability improves the brand experience

Good usability practices anticipate the needs and actions of the users—and demographics play an important role. Understanding not just what users might do, but who they are will influence why and how they choose to take those actions. This is a crucial component of usability that should influence the design of a website.

Remember, usability is an aspect of your brand. Just like your point-of-sale, just like your support services, just like your headquarters – your website should provide an intuitive floor plan for your customers to interact with. And it should integrate well with your other online and real world services and applications, so that the experience is a consistent representation of your organization’s brand and values.

Good usability allows users to navigate intuitively and locate relevant content quickly; otherwise they will leave