There are no objective standards for Web design, but that’s a shame. While novel and inventive interface design is to be encouraged, the bottom line for most sites is usability. When the design starts to intrude on usefulness, the decisions is easy – make it easy for the user. Without delving heavily into the programming nuts and bolts of design implementation, we offer the following modest proposals:
1. Use Consistent Navigation
Give the users consistent navigation throughout the site. The importance of this simple point can’t be overstated, as newbies invariably get lost. Moreover, you should try to accommodate users with old systems and users with disabilities. Some users disable java, and others use text only browsers, so provide text only nav buttons to accommodate all users (or provide an alternate site).
2. Provide a Site Map
Just plain common courtesy, if you ask me. When I am in a hurry, the last thing I want to do is dig through a hierarchical Web site structure to search for something that I know exists on the site.
3. Provide a Contacts Page
You would be amazed at how many companies have ZERO contact information on their Web sites. Moreover, a generic e-mail link is NOT sufficient; you need to give people addresses, phone numbers, etc. In order for the Web to deliver on its promise, it must be used to increase the transparency of organizations.
4. Listen to the Users
Give your users a method for providing feedback. It’s true, people rarely use the feedback option, but its also true they really hate it when they are not given the option. The usability of your feedback system is a key when problems strike; a good system eases tensions and a bad system escalates the tensions dramatically. (Do we need to point out that timely response to feedback forms is also a necessity?)
5. Build an Intuitive Interface
The Ideal Interface must meet two criteria: (1) Newbies must be confronted with an easy-to-learn consistent system while, (2) Experienced users should be able to navigate the site quickly – the design should not impede or interfere navigation by an experienced user who is familiar with the site.
6. Provide FAQs
If your site generates a lot of questions, has complex content systems, you should include an FAQ that provides answers to the most common issues. Trust us, this feature will save you AND your users time.
7. Strive for Compelling Content
O.K., so this isn’t exactly a true “design” point, it still must be mentioned: You must give users a reason to return.
8. Insist on Quick Access
Building a page that looks good and loads quickly is not the easiest of jobs. Add into the equation the labyrinthine nature of some of the connections between you and the Web page server, it is not surprising that page loading times vary wildly. Still there are things your designer can do. Try 15 Second Rule: If the page doesn’t load in 15 seconds, it is too big. Tell your Web team to decrease file sizes.
9. Strive for Simplicity
Make simple, common tasks easy to do. When long procedures are necessary for new users, meaningful shortcuts should be provided for experienced users.
10. Provide Feedback
A well-designed site should give users feedback in response to user input, errors, and changes in status. The information should be communicated simply ,with an indication of what options are available to the user.
11. Be Tolerant
The site should be tolerant of errors and unusual usage. Beta testing of the site should encompass anticipating a wide variety of erroneous or atypical user behaviors. While it is probably impossible to anticipate all possible mis-uses, the site should handle mistakes with grace and, when possible, provide the user with guidance.