Usablility: What’s your Experience on the Web?
It takes a lot more than a graphic design degree to become a successful web designer these days. A variety of factors play into the performance of an effective website, but understanding the importance of usability and user experience is at the top of the list.
First let’s distinguish between the terms usability and user experience. They are not one and the same. Usability is the ease of accomplishing a goal on a website. User experience is the way an individual feels about their experience using a website.
A great website has high ratings for both usability and user experience. It is easy for the user to accomplish a goal, and they have a fun/interesting/visually stimulating experience while doing it. This is the ultimate goal of any good web designer.
Analyzing site usability involves a variety of tracking technologies including heat maps, eye tracking software, and analytics to determine where users are clicking on the site. An experienced designer takes insight from these technologies to streamline the site. If heat maps show that users are clicking on a static image expecting it to link somewhere, the designer can change the image to a link. If website analytics show a quick bounce rate from a particular page, a designer can revise the layout and content to try to enrich it.
Analyzing user experience is a more qualitative process, with a focus on the psychological impact of site interaction. User surveys and tests will provide research on how an individual feels about their interaction with the site.
Usability and user experience go hand in hand, for the most part: if a user can easily access information or complete a task on the site, they will have a positive feeling about the interaction. However, there are exceptions. Some sites are so streamlined and devoid of imagery that even though a user can accomplish tasks quickly, they will choose to navigate elsewhere. Some sites are so visually pleasing or entertaining to interact with that users don’t care that they are taking twice as long to accomplish a simple task.
The goal is balance. Successful designers understand website analytics along with pleasing visual layouts and create websites that satisfy users on both levels.