The internet is dominated by websites built by technical people. Many look great and often have some pretty flashy features but do they stand the real test the customers? I am often amazed at the lengths people will go to when looking to impress with their new website. Many websites are now build in Flash or have a flash introduction. Flash websites look really great, that I have to admit, but often they just don't work for the user. If you are like me then you probably hit the 'skip intro' every time you land on an introduction page. Why? Most of us have little time and are using what precious little time we do have to find what we already know we want.
An impressive flash introduction doesn't help because it is more about advertising or showing off some technical bells and whistles. That doesn't impress me; I just want to get to the information that I am looking for: "skip intro". What about you? What do you do when you land on one of these pages? Website design is more art than science in my view, It is about stepping into the website visitors shoes and asking yourself, how usable is this for my customer? Can they find what they are looking for quickly? How many steps do they need to take to get to their information? Of course the first step in this process has to be analysing the typical end users needs. What exactly is the problem they are trying to solve and how can we direct them to the information they need? How much information do they need? How do we know that our language is correct (for example communicating with a teenager requires different language to that used to communicate effectively with retirees). I know that this is an extreme example, but serves to illustrate the point.
There have been many studies done into the way website users scan for information and the patterns that their eyes typically follow. I recommend that anyone considering website design familiarise themselves with these studies. I want to emphasise a quick point. Note that I said that website visitors scan the web.
That's right. Studies have shown that people tend not to read a web page as much as scan for the information they need. Typically this happens in an "F" pattern, scanning across the top of the page first, then down the left and across the middle of the page. So why would a website designer place barriers in the way? I think it is mainly because they just don't know about usability. They know how to construct beautiful websites; they just don't understand how people use them. Purposeful website design is truly an art.
The great websites have a deep understanding of their visitors and use this understanding to drive the website design agenda. They know how people use their websites because they measure and refine, measure and refine until they can see that customers are achieving their purpose for visiting the website. Great website designers are rare and if you find one, hold on to them. They are worth their weight in gold.
Billy writes about website design from a usability perspective. This is an important part of any online strategy.