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Oct 2014

Oh, the Horror! Bad Usability can be Spine Chilling.

It’s that time of year, when ghoulish ghosties are all around, when vampires and bats and things that go BOO! in the darkest of night come out to haunt. When creatures and ghosts and Frankenstein’s monster rise to terrorize.

But none of these things scare me. They only come out once a year, and besides, I have plenty of wooden stakes and garlic to scare off the most horrifying of creatures.

No, these things aren’t scary at all. But you know what gives me goosebumps? What sends shivers down my spine, each and every time? What makes me moan and groan and rattles my bones? 

Bad web usability. BOOOOOOOOOOO!

But like a wooden stake or a silver bullet, there are secret weapons you can use to slay these dangerous demons of design before they turn your website into a waking nightmare for your users. 

Know what works

Knowing that garlic won’t help you fend off a werewolf can come in handy if you find yourself face to face with one. Knowing these fundamentals of good usability will help you design sites that are a treat for your users: 

  • Clear, self-explanatory navigation
  • Logically-organized copy presentation
  • Obvious search functionality
  • Visible and well-thought-out site structure

Don’t go there!

When you’re lost in a dark forest, you don’t want to mistake the haunted coal mine for the way out. Think of these good usability principles from Jakob Nielsen’s Usability 101 as the beam of your trusty flashlight, keeping you on right path:

  • Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
  • Efficiency: Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
  • Memorability: When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they reestablish proficiency?
  • Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?
  • Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the design?

NOTE: These usability principles can apply to any product, not just a web site. The next time you’re programming that new television remote control, test it against these principles and see if it sends you shrieking.

Finally, face your fears

Here’s a super quick usability test you can perform on your own home page. How fast can a user answer these questions when users first arrive at your site:

  • What is this?
  • What can I do here?
  • What do they have here?
  • Why should I be here (and not somewhere else)?
  • AND where do I start?

How long did it take you to answer those questions? Your web site might be a maze of terror if you aren’t able to answer all of these questions clearly in 5–10 seconds…or less. If your time came within those parameters, congratulations – that is a superior home page usability win!

So, remember: know what works, stick to the path and face your fears. You’ll be able to give your users treats, not tricks, by improving the usability of your web site.

AVID Design offers full-scale written and visual communication services for hospitals and healthcare systems, including SharePointWeb designSEO and PPC content development and assessmentonline video and rich mediaanalytics and measurementcontent management systems and more.

Brett Boatright | Director, Digital Creative UI/UX | AVID Design

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