Rebuilding your website around usability

To some people, “website design” simply means the look and feel of things, which is why for many years, website designers were usually just graphic designers who’d learned to use Adobe Dreamweaver or whatever. That’s a bit like asking your printer to write your company catalogue. Things have moved on, and today most businesses appreciate that good website design is a multi-skilled exercise, where the look and feel is just one aspect, alongside the structural design, the content, the search engine optimisation and more.

If you ever get the opportunity to redesign your company’s website, and are looking to subcontract the task, I’m sure you’d give the job to someone who started off their pitch by asking “What do you want your website visitors to do?” rather than “What would you like the main colours and fonts to be?”

When we do a website rebuild, this is where we begin – working out what a client wants the site to achieve. Once this has been established, the focus is on encouraging the visitors to take the appropriate actions. For example, if the aim of the site is to publicise the advantages of the company’s technology, and it’s clear that for potential customers to understand it requires considered reflection, we might design the site to get as many visitors as possible to send for the explanatory guide. The art and science of making it as easy as possible for them to do so – and maximising the number who do – is called usability.

Learning a little about usability is something I’d recommend to anyone who manages a website. You might be stuck with a website which is all style and no substance (or possibly has neither), but at least when adding new content, you can think about how to make it easy for the reader to do what you want. The best book ever on this subject is Don’t Make Me Think! by Steve Krug, which everyone in marketing should read, but there are a lot of good articles around online if you look. The one which inspired this post was 10 Useful Usability Findings and Guidelines on Smashing magazine. If your website already conforms to all of the recommendations there, I’d be amazed.

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