Seven Tips for Improving Usability

Usability is a term most often referred to when analyzing the user interface of software applications and the design of web sites. However, the same principles of usability can be applied to almost anything where there is a customer “using” a product or service. That said, take a few moments to consider the following usability tips and how you can improve the user and/or customer experience for your organization.

Fortune 1000 companies each spend an average of $2 million per year on site redesigns, without knowing if the redesign made the site easier to use.

It’s the Experience, Stupid. What experience are your customers looking for when they visit your store, surf your Web site, or engage your services? All too often, we design with our own experience in mind. As an author friend of mine put it, “you need to write for the reader”—if you want people to read and buy your book that is. You can always design for yourself, but don’t count on doubling your sales unless you are a composite of your target market.

You Can’t Get There From Here. Going to college in Maine, I actually heard this phrase in real life—after I recovered from the shock, I thought, “Well, now what do I do?” It is at this point, that your customer starts to get frustrated. Avoid this at all costs! One of the biggest mistakes in web design is the lack of intuitive navigation. Can users find where they want to go? Do you even know what they are looking for? Have you provided them simple, clear directions to find, evaluate, and purchase what you are selling? Think about your navigation systems; can they get where they want to go from where they are?

Make It Foolproof. According to usability author, Steve Krug, most people on the Web “don’t figure out how things work.” Take programming the VCR for instance; need I say more? While tech geeks are adding more features and functions to the remote control, most of us don’t know how to use the buttons that are currently on it. Your customers don’t have to “muddle through” if you’ve designed a product or service that is simple to understand and/or use. Simply stated, adopt simplicity.

Get Out the Red Pen. Get to the point. How much fluff is really necessary to create the picture, describe the product, generate the feeling? Take a look at your current web site, brochure, proposal, and/or product packaging and try to eliminate at least half of the current content. Use the Bullfighter referenced in the September issue of insideout and get rid of the bull!

Standardize the Use of Standards. Everyone wants to differentiate themselves and be creative, but sometimes that isn’t the best choice. In grocery stores, you’ve learn the standards for item placement. On Web sites, you’ve learned the standards for navigation, search, and page names. When these standard aren’t followed, it’s just plain annoying. When they’ve switched the mustard from aisle 3 to a beautifully designed end-cap, how long do you look around before you bail? Think about the types of standards in your industry and what your customers have come to expect…are you leveraging your customers’ common knowledge or creatively sidelining your next sale?

Provide Clear, Action-Oriented Choices. Ever wanted to buy something and couldn’t figure out where/how to pay? Landed on a home page and thought, “Where should I start?” Participated in a meeting and felt overwhelmed and unable to nail down how to begin the project? In every case, what’s needed are a few clear, actionable choices–help your customers take the next step and guide them; they’ll thank you for it.

Invest in Usability Analysis. Where the rubber meets the road is in actually observing a customer interact with your product, service, Web site, or marketing pieces. What expectations do users have? How do they actually use it? What steps do they take to move forward? How long does it take? And what experience are they left with? Instead of guessing, invest in usability analysis that will help you design with the user in mind.

Ready to design peak performance on your project?