Between looking for a good restaurant to finding affordable health care, our lives online can be pretty hectic. The day-to-day details and volume of work can sometimes make it difficult to see the forest for the trees. The first day of April is a great time to pause for a moment, take a fresh look at your website, and confirm whether or not you are meeting some basic user experience benchmarks. Don’t know which benchmarks to use? We’ve prepared a list.
Top 10 User Experience Musts
- Splash page: Every site should have a Flash splash page featuring music and animated text. How will your users know they are welcome if you don’t make them take a pause to let you share your excitement? Be sure to include a welcome that unfolds slowly and reaffirms that they did indeed arrive at the website url they entered or clicked on. But don’t forget to add a “Skip Intro” link for the occasional oddball user who can’t appreciate music when trying to find a restaurant’s hours or address. (Bonus points if you’re a restaurant with a 100% Flash site – no one ever needs to view restaurant sites on a smart phone.)
- Gray links: Anything you really need users to select should be gray. Why overwhelm them with a garish color that draws attention away from your logo? If you have gray text on a gray background – you’re on your way to UX-cellence!
- Click here! Nothing says “I am a link!” like click here. This is especially meaningful on mouse-less tablets and smartphones.
- Form tips: There aren’t enough required fields on your form, trust me. Your users should feel like they’re doing their taxes when signing up to receive a newsletter. Also, always include a reset button very close to the submit button in case they filled out every single item wrong and need to start over completely. Don’t worry about them filling out everything correctly and then accidentally clicking the reset button that is visually identical to the submit button – that never, ever happens.
- QA: Don’t worry about pre-launch quality assurance testing. Instead, let your customers do your user testing after launch. Not only does this make them feel like part of the brand, but who better to receive bugs from than someone who just missed open enrollment because of a code glitch?
- Navigation labels: Don’t over-label navigation. Use terms like “other” or “misc” to convey to users that you welcome further exploration into the deep content on your website. Users love the sense of discovery and mystery that only a “miscellaneous” category can offer.
- Make users work for it: “No Pain, No Gain”, right? Most users are sitting anyway, meaning they are relaxed. When users must “figure out” your website, they will leave with a sense of accomplishment and engagement.
- Ad-ing Value: Your ads could use some company! And they may get more accidental clicks if you deceptively mingle them with critical navigation and links in the right column of your website. And if users think there might be ads in the right column, they will pay extra attention to everything in the right column – no one wants to risk missing an ad do they? At the end of the day, it’s what users love most about websites.
- Segregate your users: Writing browser-specific code and adding a “This site best viewed in”… disclaimer is a time-tested solution to showing your users a customized experience is in store. You’ll demonstrate that you’re not concerned about silly fads like responsive design. You picked a target browser a couple years ago, and you’re sticking to it!
- Page Freshness: Don’t let your pages get stale. Reload them automatically every minute or so to keep them frosty. This is especially exciting for users on mobile devices.
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Ok, ok… April Fools!
Hopefully by now you’ve realized that 1) it’s April Fool’s Day! And 2), these tips are pretty much the opposite of what we would recommend. At Crux Collaborative, we work to recognize bad UX and take immediate action to fix it. It’s an important part of what we do – and it happens across disciplines and roles, every day, and on every project.
If you work at Crux Collaborative, you are a user experience fanatic. And that means that we support each other and our clients by constantly analyzing what we create from the end-user’s perspective.
All project phases must answer to the “Does this make sense for the user?” question. From the initial meetings about the project, to looking at a published site weeks later – we strive to ensure everything we create answers this question positively. And when it doesn’t, we work collaboratively to find a solution that does.
From our experience, we’ve found the following will help your website’s usability and keep your users happy and engaged. So, all kidding aside, here are 5 actual practices we employ when working on user experiences:
- Identify user goals, and remove the barriers to achieving them. You will serve your users well if you can identify their goals – and create clear paths to achieve them. For example, if you’re creating a registration form that enables users to customize a Real Estate search, here are some questions to ask:
- Do we know what users could get hung up on?
- Will the user understand the true benefit of filling out the form?
- Can we keep the field names succinct and clear to avoid confusion?
- Can we pre-populate fields with data we already know?
- Can we reduce the number of fields?
- Should we auto-advance the fields to keep them from having to use the mouse?
- Do we really need to require users to register at all?
- Listen to your users, preferably with other members of the team. There is no more humbling experience than to see your sweet new navigation idea completely flop in a usability test. Watching users interact with your site providing real-time feedback provides invaluable information that you can use to improve the user experience.
- Implement responsive design.Creating websites that work well, regardless of the device used to view them, is a major win for usability. Have you used a site on a desktop computer, only to find out that you need to re-learn the user interface when using it from a mobile device? We don’t like that either. Having a consistent user experience between devices is becoming an expected behavior. You may as well get on board and learn how you can make your current site responsive. Here are 4 questions to ask before you start creating a responsive website.
- Consider users with disabilities.Creating an “accessible” website means creating a better user experience for disabled users. There are several things you can do right now to improve user experience for these users. Making a website more accessible creates a better user experience by definition.
- Be conservative in what you send, and liberal in what you accept. Also known as the robustness principle, this approach can keep your users from having to work extra hard to use your site. For example, have you ever had a registration form error-out by demanding you add dashes to a phone number? Yeah, we think that sucks too. Interactions should be easy for users, even if it’s hard for you to build. Be liberal in what you accept (dashes, spaces, no spaces) and conservative in what you send (errors for not using a highly specific format). You can apply this to many places in your website’s user experience.
And don’t forget to ask, “Does this make sense for the user?” Asking this question early and often will save a lot of pain and suffering later on.
To learn more about our expertise with user experience consulting, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
By Mike McClure
Director of Design + Development
Mike has been involved with user experience work since the early nineties. His experience spans the gamut, from strategy to UX development and front-end coding, to accessibility and animated guided tour videos.View Mike's Bio