Companies are (thankfully) becoming more and more aware of user experience and the value of providing an easy, pleasurable experience to visitors on their website. User experience design is a broad field and can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t need to be. Here are six tips that can make a big difference in your site’s usability, as told through song titles (because I can’t resist a good playlist).
Andrew Bird – “The Naming of Things”
While it may be tempting to unleash your right-brain and give all of your navigation links and site features and functions creative names, it’s not recommended. Although it might seem fun and clever to use unconventional names for hum-drum things such as “About Us”, what it really does is force your users to waste time wondering whether that cleverly-named navigation link will get them to where they want to go.
Imagine you have a time machine, but instead of just being able to turn the dial to the year you want to visit, the options on your time machine dial are all things like “Andrew Bird’s birth year”. You might have a vague idea of what year that might be (somewhere between 1965-1980?), but when you end up in 1973 when you were hoping to end up in 1979, you’ll be frustrated, especially when you still have to figure out which event on your dial will actually get you to 1979.
People visit your website with a purpose – they either want to learn something, or do something, or a combination of both. They also want to learn or do that something as quickly and efficiently as possible. Don’t impede them with ambiguous names and titles for things on your site. Call things what they are, or what your users would call them, and save the creativity for the content on your site.
Beck – “Where It’s At”
In a perfect world this song would be titled “Where I’M At”, but “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (I’ll show myself out)...
Not only do people want to assuredly know where they’re going, they also want to know where they currently are, and how to get back.
Irish Titan is approximately 15 miles away from the Mall of America, which has more than 520 stores in a 5.6 million square foot building. Imagine that there were no signs on any of those 520+ stores, and no map kiosks scattered throughout that square footage -- it would be pretty difficult to figure out which store you were in (and if you were going to be able to find what you were looking for there), or remember how you managed to get there in the first place (was it a right out of the movie theater and left at the Italian restaurant, or the other way around?).
People like to have a sense of where they are, whether they’ll be able to accomplish what they want to there, and if not, how to back up so they can pick an option that will better suit their needs. For the web, that means two things: using page titles, and using breadcrumbs.
Page titles are like mall stores’ signs – they tell you where you are, and give you information about whether you’ll find what you’re looking for there. If I’m on a page titled “Careers”, I have a pretty good idea of the kind of information I’ll be able to find there, and whether or not that’s what I’m looking for at the moment.
Breadcrumbs are like map kiosks – they provide a way to easily backtrack, so you can quickly find a logical second choice if your first choice didn’t pan out (if I can’t find a sweater I like at the first store I visit, I can see a list of all of the stores that carry women’s apparel on the map, and choose a different store). Whereas you should always use page titles, breadcrumbs are for most sites, not all sites. Breadcrumbs should be used on any site where a user can travel two or more pages away from the homepage, so if your website is more like a mini-mall instead of a mega-mall, you can skip them.
Sufjan Stevens – “Too Much”
Brevity: not only the soul of wit, but also a boon to successful websites. Steve Krug, in his excellent, entertaining usability book “Don’t Make Me Think”, advises cutting the word count of your site’s content in half, then striving to cut it in half again. Why be so ruthless? People don’t read the content on websites. What people actually do is scan the content to try to find words or phrases that match what they’re looking for. If every page on your site is stuffed to the gills with endless paragraphs, people won’t be able to easily find the information they want, and they will move on.
Content solely for the sake of content is overwhelming and can drown out the information that is actually important and helpful for your users. Help people more quickly and easily find what they’re looking for by writing straight-forward content that is easy to scan.
Hiatus Kaiyote – “Jekyll”
Ah, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde… a tale of conflicting personalities (SPOILER ALERT: they’re the same person!), and a familiar phrase to describe an individual who acts differently from one situation to the next. The continual change between Jekyll and Hyde is troublesome for everyone involved in the story (particularly the doomed Dr. Jekyll). Likewise, altering the layout and visual language of your site from page to page is also troublesome.
People expect to see the same elements and functions remain consistent as they travel from page to page on your website. The value in that consistency is that people will know where to look to find what they want or need, when they need to, regardless of where they are on your site. If your site’s search bar is located in the upper right hand corner, it should appear in that same place on every page on your site. If its location changes from page to page, people won’t be able to instantly find it when they need it, and they will get frustrated.
The Bird and the Bee – “Again & Again”
I have a complicated pizza order. Thankfully, my regular pizza parlor remembers it, so when I call them to place an order, I don’t have to list all of the toppings I want again and again, every time I call – I just confirm that I want my regular order. They make it as simple as possible for me to order from them, which is part of the reason I continue to order from them whenever I’m in the mood for pizza (the other reason is that their pizza is amazing).
If you know there are things that users will routinely do on your website, make it as easy for them to do as possible. People love shopping on Amazon because they make it easy to shop – you don’t even need to take out your wallet because if you’ve shopped with them before, your credit card information is already saved in your account. If you can remove or consolidate steps in a process such as a checkout or booking, do. If there is a page on your site that is always heavily trafficked, make sure it is easy to access from a primary page and not buried four layers deep in your site.
Jamiroquai – “If I Like It, I Do It”
In addition to the recommendations listed above, my last recommendation is to learn from other websites you visit. Pay attention to the good and bad experiences you have on other websites. When you have a pleasant experience, or a frustrating one, make note of it. If you stumble across something great that makes sense to implement on your own site, do!
Bonus track: Erykah Badu – “Cel U Lar Device”
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that you should make sure that your site works -- and works well -- on mobile and tablet devices. Mobile devices now account for more than half of digital traffic, so delivering a consistent experience across device types is increasingly important. Additionally, Google Search now prioritizes mobile-friendly sites in their search results, which should incentivize you to make your site mobile-friendly if it isn’t already.
At Irish Titan, we build responsive, mobile-first websites to ensure users have a consistent, great experience on your site, no matter what device they are accessing it from. If your site is in need of a makeover, we’re more than happy to help.