Good website design is not just about the looks, nor is it just about the techie stuff. Making your website clear and usable is arguably as important as anything else. Here are 8 ways you can make your website more usable.
1. Consistent Navigation Menu
I’ll start off with my pet hate. It’s surprising the number of websites that seem to have a different menu on pretty much every page of the site. Whilst there may be some instances where certain pages have varying sub-menus, I see no reason why the vast majority of sites shouldn’t have a consistent top-level menu on ALL pages. It makes navigating around the site far easier for the user & means there a lot less likely to feel ‘lost’.
2. Consistent Page Layout
Don’t make the user work too hard! Have a set page layout (or a number of set layouts for different page types) so that the user knows where to expect content to appear. Have your telephone number in the same place on each page. Have the main content in the same area. There are obviously exceptions to this rule, but hopefully you get my gist…
The typeface you use on your website is an important component in the design & has a big impact on the personality your website portrays. But more than that, it also plays a big role in usability. Sans-serif fonts (such as Arial) are generally easier on the eye than serif fonts (such as Times New Roman). Ensure the font size is appropriate to the audience, and spacing between letters and lines is optimised to make the text easy to scan.
Wow, people make some mistakes here! Colour is probably the single most abused factor in web design. As a rule of thumb, have two or three main colours to use throughout the site, and apply them in a consistent way. Select colours appropriate to your business, and that match or support your existing branding. Resist the urge to splash every possible colour across the site in a rainbow effect (unless, of course, appropriate to your business!!). Dark text against a white or light background is far easier to read than white text on a black background.
I often say that images can make or break a site. Good quality images are invaluable in supporting a professional brand. Aside from that though, if used cleverly, they play a big role in making a site more usable. Examples include image menus – people can immediately ‘see’ where they’re going before they click; blog posts – giving people an idea of what the post is about before they even read it; helping to separate up big chunks of content and hence make the text more readable.
The vast majority of users to your website will not read the text on each page word for word. They will scan read, picking out the bits they think are important to them. As a general rule therefore, it’s crucial to split text up in to relatively small ‘chunks’, perhaps with key words or phrases highlighted in bold. Break the page up with headings, so a user can quickly find what they’re looking for. Consider using bulleted lists rather than long paragraphs – if appropriate for your content.
7. White Space
One of these days I might do a whole blog post on white space. People seem to be afraid of it, and yet the ‘less is more’ concept is very true. Don’t be afraid to leave (planned!) white space – give the user’s eye a rest! This is particularly important around elements that you want to draw the user’s eye to – don’t clutter with so much junk they miss the important bits!
8. Contact details!
It really frustrates me (and everyone else I talk to about this), when I look for a telephone number or email address on a website and it takes me ages to find it. Or even worse, I don’t find it at all. For the vast majority of small businesses, if someone is looking for your telephone number, it’s a good thing – they want to talk to you! Don’t make it hard for them – have it in a consistent location on each page. And include a page with your full contact details if they want to email or snail-mail you!