user interface

  1. Website Usability: Designing for Mobile Devices

    In the quest to make your website more user-friendly, there comes a time when you need to give great thought as to what type of device and user you are designing for. As mentioned in part 1 of this series, many people today are accessing the web via mobile and multi-touch devices. As Steve Jobs commented just days after the release of the iPad," Elements that rely only on mousemove, mouseover, and mouse out or as a CSS pseudo-class hover may not always behave as expected on a touch-screen device such as the iPad or the iPhone."As a result, web developers should keep in mind that anything designed for the web and requiring a hover state has an uncertain future and may face serious website usability issues. Not sure? Consider this telling fact, "There are two smartphones being purchased for every one desktop computer."2

    iPhoneThere are a variety of steps you can take to keep a website, whether
    being viewed on a desktop or mobile screen, from being unpleasant at
    best and unusable at worst. Here are a few common elements you may wish
    to consider avoiding as you design or edit your next site.

    • Splash
      pages that require an extra click to get into a site -If you must, make
      sure there is a good reason for it. Not just to "Be cool."
    • Videos or music that plays automatically on load – Unless you
      want to compel a large percentage of your visitors in public places to
      scramble for the "Close Window" button.
    • Using drop down menus or
      hiding content that is critical for people to get to easily – Although
      the popularity of the drop down menu has helped to reduce it’s inherent
      counterintuitiveness, consider other, more simple navigation techniques
    • Hyperlinks that are not totally obvious
    • Javascript tool tips or other pop up boxes – Use these only for supplemental information, not critical info
    • Build intentionally and specifically for the touch screen devices

    many of these items relate to Javascript, that doesn’t mean that one
    should quit using it (It can be a very useful tool, actually), but
    rather that it is necessary for web designers (and website owners) be
    aware that every "special effect" should be there for a purpose. Whether
    it is getting more content on the page for SEO reasons without making
    the page look so text-heavy, or hiding a  login area that comes to the
    forefront only after a click, if only 20% of a site’s visitors may need
    to login, etc.

    Website usability for the mobile generation also means some natural constraints3.
    According to Luke Wroblewski, website usability for the mobile device
    means that pages should be designed for a screen size of 480-320 pixels,
    which is only 80% of the size of a low resolution desktop screen. As a
    result, designers need to focus on what aspects of the site are most
    important to your customers. You will also want to keep user interface
    elements geared toward these "finger usable" sizes:

    • Use extra big buttons
    • List components should have plenty of line spacing
    • The width of a finger limits the density of items on the screen. If
      the items are too close, the user will not be able to choose a specific

    With all of the browsers, devices, and programming
    choices today, it’s easy to get caught up in implementing too many
    features. However, ensuring website usability is a critical aspect of
    increasing sales and that is the bottom of line for any business. After
    all, the average user is not going to stay on a site that is difficult
    to use, challenging to focus on, or takes too long to load. If you want
    to increase your website’s usability, be sure to ponder these
    suggestions. And remember that Page Progressive is happy to help you make your website all it can be 🙂


    2. (.net/standards, Sept. 2010)
    3. Practical Web Designs, Sept. 2010
  2. Website Usability: 7 Reasons Why It’s All About the User

    As you begin examining your website to see if it is usable to your visitors, there are many aspects you will want to research. Not only do you want it simple yet informative, you want your visitors to recognize, among other things, that they are important to you. Recently, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, after much research and combined years of experience have released the following website accessibility guidelines to enhance a website’s usability.

    Website Usability Design Guidelines

    1. Provide content that is engaging, relevant and appropriate to the audience; this is the most critical aspect of the web page.
    2. Use all available resources to better understand the user’s requirements.
    3. Make sure the website’s format meets user expectations. It should
      be easy to use, have helpful content and be well organized. This will
      also encourage others to want to use your site. Also keep in mind the
      guidelines for Section 508 standards for being friendly for those that are visually impaired.
    4. Focus first on the users; get them involved to better meet their
      requirements. Some websites are better at this than others. Remember,
      just because your company personnel does not have trouble using your site
      doesn’t mean that your customers will experience the same thing.
    5. State and set goals; recognize and determine the goals of the site
      before beginning the design process; be clear and concrete. As King
      Solomon said in Proverbs, "Where there is no vision, the people perish."
    6. Consider the numerous interface issues during the design process. These issues include:
      1. Context within which users will be visiting
      2. Experience levels of the users
      3. Types of task users will be doing
      4. Types of computer and connection speeds
      5. Evaluation of prototypes
      6. Results of usability test
    7. Implement good SEO practices so that
      your site will be listed in the top 30. Studies show that users do not
      look at web pages that are not in the Search Engine’s top 30 results.

    If, upon reading these guidelines, you realize that your website needs
    work, don’t despair.  According to a recent Public Accounts Committee
    report, one-third of government sites did not comply with its own
    accessibility guidelines. Of course, this doesn’t make having a website
    that is difficult to use acceptable, but it does show that even with the
    best of intentions, there are many websites that need more work. If you
    recognize that your own website needs an overhaul, keep these tips (and
    those in the upcoming posts) in mind as you consider how best to revamp
    or contact Page Progressive and allow us to improve your website’s usability!

  3. 4 Ways “Less is More” Regarding User-Friendly Websites

    In a day when technology is constantly changing and improving, building a unique website has become more than choosing a WordPress template and plopping in your content. After all, there’s Flash, Javascript, a rainbow of color choices, gradients, boxes, bars, animated GIFs, widgets, gadgets, thingamajigs and many other programming and design elements to choose from, right? But does a website really need all of these "latest and greatest" web elements in order to be effective and usable? Many website developers and interface design experts agree the answer is a resounding "No." In fact, the wealth of possible website effects and features has lead to the detriment of many a website, when it comes to being user-friendly. And shouldn’t that be one of, if not the goal in any design?

    GoalsSet Limits, Guided by Goals

    One paramount way to increase website usability is in setting goals and limits. All websites should be built with a few goals in mind. Those goals may be actions that you want to encourage your users to perform on your site, like sign up for your mailing list or it could be to sell as many of a particular hot product as possible. If you don’t have any goals, your website will lack structure and purpose and more than likely not give you the best results. There are several ways you
    can actually improve you website by setting limits:

    Limit the Color

    Just because there’s a color wheel to choose from doesn’t mean every
    shade of green has to be used. Bill at GoMediaZine states, "Reducing the
    number of colors we use in our design will make the piece feel
    consistent. Keep the color palette small but vibrant." (Examples: Nike,
    sports teams, chain restaurants)

    Limiting Typography

    Like colors, keeping a consistent font is easier for the eye to
    follow. A fancy font may work well for headings, but body text should be a
    standard font that is easily read – even at small sizes. However, do keep
    in mind that the over-use of a single font within a single design can
    also be confusing and difficult to read. Often a layout can combine the use of 2 fonts to emphasize the different between a heading and the body text.

    Limiting Size

    Website usability also means keeping the size of a magazine spread in
    mind when designing your site. In fact, according
    to web entrepreneur, Luke Wroblewski, websites and web applications
    should be designed for mobile devices first, rather than the more common
    order of designing first for the desktop. He supports this argument
    citing that mobile use is growing rapidly. Designing for mobile devices
    forces you to focus. Of course, page size is one of the many factors that has no hard set rule. In the planning stage, this should be one of the factors considered. For example, will your site be accessed more by people who have older computers with smaller screens? Will a mobile version of your site be necessary? Will people on iPads or other tablet devices make up a large number of your visitors?

    Minimize, not Maximize

    Rather than using a little bit of every cool idea you’ve ever seen on a website,
    you should use a few things really well. Products like the iPod or iPad
    are remarkable not for all the options they have, but rather for what
    they don’t have. Instead of having a dozen buttons like many other devices, these products have 4
    buttons, making them easy to use and some of the most popular portable devices of all time.

    Simply put, much of the
    features that improve website usability can be filed under the old
    acronym K.I.S.S. Keeping it simple can go a long way to making visitors feel comfortable and eager to spend time there. And, that is
    the point, isn’t it?

  4. Websites Should NOT Make You Think

    When it comes to designing a good website, I always think of the book "Don’t Make Me Think" by Steve Krug. It’s an oldie, but a "goodie." As a web developer, we are always faced with the battle between usability and aesthetics. Not to say that you can’t have both, but they are often at odds with one another. Throw in the need for a website to be search engine optimized and you get even more complexity. Here’s the thing to keep in mind: USABILITY SHOULD ALWAYS WIN.

    Why, you may ask? Although it is critical for a website to be found on the internet, and the look of a website can leave a serious impression on a user, having a website that will get your visitors where you want them to go as quickly and easily as possible should be your goal when (re)designing a website. Take a look at a few very successful, yet very simple sites, Google and Craigslist. Both look like they were designed by a middle schooler in 1992, and yet, their simplicity is why they succeed. Both sites make it undeniably simple to do what you should be doing on them.

    Craigslist Screenshot

    Sometimes we have to "coach" clients that insist that a website design must contain a 3D spinning logo, long Flash animation or absolutely zero text, but they also tell us that ranking on a search engine is critical to their business. Don’t get me wrong…all of those elements do have their place occasionally, but often the people asking for them don’t have a clear purpose in mind. So, we create what we call a "Predesign" for all of our clients that gives them a wire-frame look at how their site would be organized, based on the client’s initial feedback and the research that we have done in their industry. We use a tool called Basalmiq that makes it super simple to throw together a mock-up. While, it’s certainly not the most robust layout tool, and it’s interface is a bit clunky, it gets the job done quickly and it’s hand drawn look makes it very obvious to our clients that we are not tackling aesthetics with these mock-ups.

    Think with Purpose

    A website should be structured so that once you identify the 3 things that 75% of all of your visitors will be looking for, make those things very painfully obvious to get to. If you want your clients to fill out a contact form…ask them to do so on your home page, but don’t pop up a window that obstructs the view of the rest of the page that will really annoy someone just looking for your phone number. If you have a lot of information on your site, make a search box easy to find. If you have a really hot product, feature it on the home page. If you want to establish credibility, feature some testimonials or association links. But the critical thing to remember is every element on the home page (and every other page, for that matter) should have a specific purpose…and that purpose is 98% of the time NOT to entertain the visitor with a cool presentation. And don’t even think about using a "splash page" with just your logo on it that clicks through to your home page. That just introduces an extra layer of clicking to get to your site and almost begs them to go somewhere else because they won’t find what they are looking for here.

    Of course, there are exceptions to these rules, but the main idea here is to think about WHY you are doing what you are doing with your website, and preferably do that before you get into the aesthetics of how it will look. It’s tempting to jump right into that, and we often get asked for proposals where we give an aesthetic look for a site….but without any data on who will be using the site, why they would be there and what services or products they need to sell, etc.

    So the next time you are ready to update your site…think before you shell out the big bucks….or at least hire an expert to think for you. And TRUST them.