Sure, my Mom is better at navigating the Web today than she was 5 years ago. But not much. So even though technology has made quantum leaps in the last few years (AJAX, XML, the DOM, etc.)…the basic needs of people and how they behave has remained the same. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard fellow designers say, "They’ll figure it out, people are used to surfing the Web now! They like to experiment!". Wrong. If you think your users will need to "figure it out" then you’ve designed it wrong and need to go back to the drawing board. Just because people have faster Internet connections, big fancy hi-resolution monitors, and wireless, laser-accurate pointing devices (mouses?) doesn’t mean that human nature has changed.
Let’s begin at the beginning by answering this simple question. Usability is simply how easy it is for a user to understand and operate your ‘thing’ and accomplish their goals. This ‘thing’ could be a Web site, a car, a refrigerator, or an MP3 player…it doesn’t matter. What matters is that your customer immediately understands how to work with it without having to read the user manual. The ‘learning curve’ should seem invisible and users should feel delighted with the ease-of-use and the efficiency of completing their task.
Using an analytics package like Google Analytics or WebTrends can help you get a grasp on how people are using and traveling throughout your site. Are they hitting your home page then immediately bailing? This would be an obvious indication that you have a usability problem. Are they getting you your product pages but not converting to customers? Then your product pages deserve another look. And what about your shopping cart? Analytics can give you a birds-eye view of how your customers are behaving on your site.
My name is Michael. I am a Graphic Designer, Web Developer, & Social Media Content Producer in Washington D.C.
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