In the realm of web interface design, there is a constant game of tug-of-war between creativity and usability. On one hand everyone wants to build a beautiful site that stands out from the crowd while also embodying their brand. At the same time, they also want to provide a site that is easy to navigate so that new users won't come to your site and be thoroughly confused.
Having been in the Web industry for a number of years, we've seen site designs that were so unique and filled with visual stimulation, no one would ever be able to navigate them. We’ve also seen sites so generic and boring that no one would ever want to navigate them. At the end of the day, it all comes down to balancing visual creativity and overall usability.
What Is Usability In Web Design Terms?
Usable websites are those that load quickly, look great, and are intuitively easy to navigate for first time visitors and returning viewers alike. Your headings, menus, images and other elements are immediately recognizable and show you exactly what to do to find the information you are looking for. Usable sites encourage you to return again and again because it’s just so darn easy.
Your site can shout, “I’ve got great usability!” when it is:
Intuitive - Basic tasks are easy to achieve, even on the very first site visit, and it is almost intuitive what to do and where to go on your site.
Easy to learn - After a few minutes on your site, users should have learned the overall structure, and be able to get where they need to go quickly.
Easy to remember - It should be easy to remember the structure and navigation of your site, even if people haven’t needed to visit for a while. When they return, it should be familiar BECAUSE it was easy to learn.
Swift and efficient - Users should be able to navigate swiftly without getting confused or going to the wrong areas. Your site structure should make sense to prevent errors and wasted time.
Satisfying to look at and use - It should look nice and clean. That may seem obvious, but you would be surprised at how many designs try to cram all types of information into one page, and create major clutter.
How Do You Blend An Incredible Visual With Extreme Usability In Your Website Design?
When designing your site with usability in mind, balance is everything, and this balance creates an overall excellent page experience. If you take it step by step and test often, you will end up with a nicely balanced site that is easy to use.
Frame It Out, Design The Aesthetics, And Invite Unbiased ‘Test’ Users.
Frame - One great habit to get into to ensure ultimate usability, and a practice that we strongly recommend to our clients is wireframing, which may seem pretty uninteresting, but it is a great place to start for eliminating unnecessary clutter and distractions from the usability and navigation of the website. At this stage, go ahead and add your written content, because now is a good time to have “outsiders” test the site navigation to see if they can hit all the key areas end users will aim for.
Visuals - After constructing the frame on which your beautiful site will stand, and making sure your testers can easily arrive at the key areas, you are ready to make it shine with your visuals. Now is the time to add those popping images and fine embellishments that will wow the eyes of your audience while they navigate, gliding effortlessly among your pages. When adding your imagery, be sure to keep image file size in mind, and use only a few of your VERY BEST images on each page so that your site loads as quickly as possible to keep that great user experience alive. Balance, balance, balance.
Test! - Once the structure and visuals are in place, gather at least five people who have not worked on the site, and ask them to navigate your site to answer questions they may have as an end user. Monitor their actions without telling them what to do, and look for areas that may hang them up. If all of them are able to navigate the site easily and efficiently even though they have never used it before, you did great! However, if anyone gets stuck, you’ve still got some work ahead of you.
Remember: Search Engines Are People Too.
In the era of AI, we have to remember the search engines. After all, they are the ones that will help your site get found by your visitors. It is important to know exactly what needs to be done to create the best user experience and have a really slick, functional site that both human users and robots will swoon over.
CommonPlaces’ Website Self Assessment will help you in determining whether you are on the right track to a beautiful and usable site.
We Bring It All Together Into A Beautiful, Functional Web Experience.
Wireframing, usability, visual design, and image optimization are just a few parts to the comprehensive planning services that we provide to CommonPlaces clients. If you'd like to learn more about our Web Planning Services, feel free to drop us a line, because we would love to make your site incredible!