Usability is Still a Thing

AirTran Check-In

Usability. It’s something ALL websites should work on … all the time.

For example, check out this AirTran page. I was checking in and printing boarding passes for my daughter, and this page appeared. Directly underneath the “print now” label, there’s a button that says “continue.” The button is big, obvious, the text is bolded, and it’s right underneath the “print now” label.

Guess what I did? I clicked “continue.” Which was the wrong thing to do. There’s actually a “print” button there too, to the right of everything. Pushed off to the side, no bolded text, smaller, etc.

Do you think AirTran could improve this? Yep. Pretty easily.

Now – think about your websites. Is there anything … anything at all … that you could improve pretty simply?

Probably so. Go do it.


Find & Fix your Potholes

potholesDoes your website, your library, or your new service have “potholes?”

Here’s what I mean by potholes – on your website, if the navigation is unclear, or if that “what do I do next” thing doesn’t make sense, you have caused a customer to stumble. You have effectively placed a pothole in your customer’s path, making it harder for them to navigate towards whatever it is they wanted to do.

Not a good thing!

A physical library building can do that, too. Poor (or non-existing) signage in a building can make people stumble. Arranging your book collection in a “made sense at the time” way can cause people to stumble.

If a new library service is confusing, has too many rules and policies surrounding it, or if information about the new service is hard to find on the website – again, these things make our library customers stumble.

A great way to increase usability – and hopefully satisfaction for our customers – is to find and fix those potholes. How do you do that? Here are some suggestions:

  • do some usability testing for the website.
  • ask customers if they can easily find things in your building.
  • keep track of frequent questions at the reference desk (i.e., those “where’s the bathroom” questions could mean that you have a new customer, or it could mean your signage stinks. Or both).
  • Create a “No” list – keep track of every time staff have to say “no” to customers. Then see if those “no” answers can be turned into “yes” answers with some policy tweaking, etc.

Then fix those potholes, so your customers don’t stumble.

What makes your customers stumble?

Pothole pic by Andy Wilson

Think Simple

apple keySimple is good. But that doesn’t mean your site has to BE simple.

Let’s use Apple as an example of this. Apple computers tend to have a “simple” experience attached to them. When you pick one out, there are relatively few choices – three models to choose from (as opposed to Dell, which has LOTS of models to choose from). Macs come with all the software a consumer needs to start out – basic writing, email, photo, video, and web apps – all conveniently installed. And even those apps are simple – iMovie is extremely easy to use, for example – it’s highly visual. Even the power button is simple – it’s the only button on my Mac, as opposed to my kid’s HP laptops – they have a good 5-6 buttons that do a variety of things (including hiding the power button for the uninitiated).

But is my Mac REALLY simple? Think about iMovie again. That scrolling, visual timeline of the video is anything BUT simple to create. It’s simple for the user, sure… but I’ll bet there’s some extremely complicated coding going on on the back end of that visual scroll bar!

good bookNo, it’s anything but simple. Apple has designed my MacBook experience to make sense simply, so I can focus on other things (like write this post).

We can do this with our websites, too. Our goal should be this – Think simple… always. Can we have detailed functionality? Yes – as long as it doesn’t get in the customer’s way. Our goal should be to keep the customer focused on the task at hand – and that task should NEVER be to figure out how your website works. Let’s keep our website innards out of the customer’s way!

Bathrooms and Lightswitches

When you walk into a dark room and want to see, what do you do? Simple – you just flip on the light switch. Do you think about how it works? Does it confuse you? Do you stop to marvel at the beauty of the light switch hardware?

How many people ponder the intricacies of electricity or the skills of the electrician?

Probably none of the above … you just want some light, so you flip the switch without even thinking about it. It “just works” – letting you get on with whatever it was you were going to do.

How about bathrooms? When you’re in a restaurant and need to visit the bathroom … ? Do you wonder at the amazing wayfinding expert who came up with the clever directional signage? Do you thank the plumbers, the engineers, and the architects who helped create the bathroom? Again, I’m guessing not.

In fact, if you DO have to stop and puzzle out the bathroom or the lightswitch, the designers failed. Those things should be so easy to use that you don’t have to stop what you’re doing to figure them out. The goal is to keep you going (no pun intended), not stop you in your tracks.

Your website needs to be that simple – start designing digital experiences that don’t get in your customer’s way!

pics by Martin Cathrae & Olivander

Usability Goes Halfway

me on the iphoneUsability is great – you want to have a website that’s usable, right? Lots of organizations do usability studies – even pay for them. But you know what? Usability only tells half the story. And that’s bad.

Here’s what I mean. Usability deals with traffic control – it answers things like “can they click it?” or “Do they understand the signage?” Usability tends to deal primarily with real estate – with structure (or with the “actual building”). But that’s only one part of the whole problem.

Even one of the fields that usability comes from is suspect – HCI, or Human Computer Interaction. What’s wrong here? The whole focus is on human to computer, or computer to human. I’m not always interacting with the machine anymore. When I blog, tweet, send a Facebook update … when I add a video to YouTube or a photo to Flickr … Yes, I’m interacting with “the machine” to get my stuff into my account, so it appears on the web. But I’m also interacting with the person at the other end – the viewer/reader/watcher/commenter. And to me, that interaction is the goal – not the computer interaction.

Let’s go a bit further with our websites. Start working on the whole experience – not just a tiny part of it. Think of it this way: do you want a website that is functional, or one that engages people? One that maybe even “delights?” That page is designed for the experience – not just for usability.