Usability should be usual

The World Usability Day is celebrated today, November 14th, although this is not the permanent day, as the annual celebration is always on the second Thursday of November.

This date’s purpose is to discuss and find ways to improve usability and make people’s lives easier. On this day, in about 30 countries, meetings, conferences and visits to companies are organized, among other initiatives promoted on the official website of World Usability Day. In Portugal, the event will be at OutSystems Lisbon, in Linda-a-Velha.

The concept of usability consists on the set of methods created to maximize the ease of use of a tool or object, so we can do a specific task, i.e., usability does not only apply to websites, but to different life situations. But of course, this article is about usability in terms of digital platforms.

As we already mentioned in the first article of our blog, usability includes criteria such as page design, accessibility, website speed and responsiveness on mobile devices.

The concepts of accessibility and usability, rather than being confused, are almost always interconnected. As accessibility is a subset of usability, an internet page is not usable unless it is accessible.

In Portugal, there are specific projects in these areas, on a governmental level. The Agency for Administrative Modernization has made a website dedicated to accessibility, which includes articles, tools and a lot of documentation on the subject. And they did the same about usability, with a website where are provided various tools, especially for the public institutions, so they can improve their digital presence, but also with very useful tips that apply to other sectors of activity. For example, the usability checklist, which allows you to easily identify whether your website fulfills the main rules and recommendations of usability.

There are many requirements that a website must meet, to have usability or to improve it. Here are some of them:

Speak the users’ language: the system should speak with words, phrases and concepts that are familiar to the user, instead of using ‘coded’ terms. The information should appear in a natural and logical order.

Consistent patterns: users should not need to wonder if different words, situations or actions mean the same thing.

Feedback: the system should constantly inform the user about what he is doing, what is going on. The response time influences the type of feedback: ten seconds is the limit for keeping the user’s attention focused on the dialogue.  

Good error messages: error messages should have a clear and decoded language and should help the user to solve the problem. But better than good messages, of course, is to prevent errors, know the situations that cause the most errors and modify the interface, so that the errors do not happen.

Big fonts: mobile devices are not the future, they are the present. It is where most of the people get access to websites, so it is useful that the text size is appropriate, so you do not have to zoom in. The same thing happens, obviously, in the desktop version.

Visible contact: not having a visible contact section can cause you to miss business opportunities. And let’s not talk about not having a contact section at all!

Simple menus: “less is more” is the slogan – it has to be easy to navigate the website. Adding to this, the simplicity of colors, i.e., can be strong colors, to get the attention, but not too many colors.

Short forms: to increase conversion, you should show forms in which the user only has to fill in the essential information, i.e., something that will not give him much trouble and will not make him give up on making contact.

Friendly URLs: do not let the URLs be like wifi passwords. Make them short and with the right keywords, to get your page indexed by Google.

Clear exit points: In order for the user to feel able to control the system, it should be easy to abort a task or undo an action, i.e., if he or she clicks on a function by mistake, it should not be complicated to get to the function that he or she really wants.

Help and documentation: The ideal situation is that a website is so easy to use, that it does not need any kind of help or documentation. Although, if necessary, this aid must be easily accessible. 

In addition to the application of these guidelines (which, by themselves, do not mean 100% of usability for your website), it is highly recommended that you do tests with users. Even if you cannot test it with those who will be the ‘real users’, it is possible to test the website with friends or family. Just introduce them to the website, give them a small set of tasks and see where are the flaws, to fix them. It is best to do this several times, over time, so that there is continuous improvement and so you can benefit from the advantages that the usability of the website can bring to your company!

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