In Part 1, we discussed what Steve Krug calls ‘The Three Law of Usability’, how people use the web, and website navigation. In Part 2, we’ll be discussing how to clear website clutter, do user testing, and the importance of accessibility.
Cutting the Homepage Clutter
Usually hailed as the most crucial and most difficult page to create on a website is the homepage.
One of the main reasons this page is so challenging to design is that it needs to include many essential site elements while not being overwhelming. Those elements typically are, but aren’t necessarily limited to, site ID/mission, site hierarchy, search functions, highlights of key content/features/deals, shortcuts to frequently/most used content and site features, and a login/registration form.
To cut through the confusion of designing the homepage, Krug advises that the homepage answer these four basic questions:
- What is this site? [Site ID and mission]
- What can I find here? [Content]
- What can I do here? [Features]
- Why should I be here? [Value proposition]
To illustrate the key message of a site, a few universal elements can be incorporated.
The first of these is a tagline. It’s the no more than 6-8 words found near the site logo that sums up your value proposition and illustrates your differentiating factor. Next is the welcome blurb. Usually located at the top left of the content space, the welcome blurb is a succinct description of the business—don’t mistake this as a space for the mission statement; those are more lengthy. Lastly, there should be a search button or link where users can directly search what they are looking for.
Once you’ve addressed the four questions above, you must show the user where to start (i.e., browse, search, get a free sample, or another CTA).
With the homepage, it is important to test every element. Don’t rely on common assumptions or assume all users (or the ‘average user’) will think like you or your design team.
The How and Who of Testing
Unlike the more common practice of focus groups, usability testing is about watching how people use something, like your website, whereas focus groups are small groups of people discussing something.
Usability testing can be done professionally, but usually at a cost that many teams can’t afford. This is why Krug outlines a few ways even small teams can implement usability testing to make their site better.
Keep the testing plan simple.
Spend one morning a month doing usability testing—having three testers is ideal. Then debrief over the lunch break and decide what you and your team should fix before the next monthly test.
The reason Krug only recommends three testers per session is that the problems faced by a few users will most likely apply to many. And since the goal is to keep steadily improving, you don’t need to uncover all the problems in one testing session. The goal is simply to get actionable insights to improve your site every month.
Usually, you can recruit participants (from social media, Craigslist, etc.) for an incentive of about $50-100 for 1 hour.
During the testing, have as many observers of the tester as possible. It would be best to put them in a separate observation room where they can see the participant’s screen and hear what’s happening in the testing room.
After each session, take a short break and get each observer to write down the top 3 usability problems they observed.
During the lunchtime debrief, have everyone share the top 3 problems they observed over the three testing sessions. Then, agree on the ten most serious issues and then rate each one on a scale of 1-10.
Often, the solution is to remove or simplify an existing item, not to add more stuff.
When it’s all said and done, it’s important to remember that even a little bit of testing is better than none, and the earlier on, the more time you and your team can save in the long run.
Why It Matters—Mobile and Accessibility
Another thing to consider when designing or redesigning a website is how it performs on mobile devices (cell phones, tablets, etc.). Though this is of greater importance now in 2020 than when the book was updated in 2013, Krug gives a few pieces of advice regarding mobile and accessible design.
To start, it’s important to note that the principles for usability are generally similar for mobile and web. However, for mobile, you need to design for a much smaller screen, which will require tradeoffs or eliminating some elements.
One way, which is becoming increasingly common, is to start the entire design process for mobile users first, so you’re forced to choose only the most vital content and features, before adding more elements for the desktop version.
For mobile, you can immediately implement a few of these things to increase the usability of your mobile site:
- Allow zooming on your website (so users can view elements that are too small)
- Ensure external links (emails, social media, etc.) bring users directly to relevant parts of the site
- Give the option to view the full website instead of the mobile version
- Make each element extremely clear (make things obviously clickable)
- Make sure pages load quickly
On the topic of accessibility, Krug states that, ideally, desktop websites and mobile sites should be accessible for everyone, including those with disabilities. Even if you can’t afford to develop specifically for disability, you can start with these things. First, fix usability issues that affect everyone; second, try to include disabled users in your usability-tests; next, read up on web accessibility.
Additionally, there are easier things to fix, such as adding alt text for every image, using appropriate headings, using forms that work with screen readers, and choosing a web template designed to be accessible.
No Better Time than the Present
At the end of the day, I highly recommend reading this book. There are countless insights and infographics that are helpful for beginners and professionals alike.
Concerning website UX in the time of Covid-19, I would urge anyone looking to make their first site or looking to redesign their website not to wait. There is no telling if or when in-person, brick-and-mortar shopping will ever go back to ‘normal,’ having an attractive, usable, and revenue-generating website now is even more imperative.