10 Tips for a User-Friendly Website

Web Design Tips

Everybody wants a great looking website – one that’s unique and visually reflects your brand. One element that often gets overlooked is the usability of the site. No matter how great your site looks, if users can’t navigate through it and get the information they’re looking for, it’s doomed. Smashing Magazine recently published their research findings on how to design a website that people will use. What we’ve intuitively known through our process of web design finally gets some scientific cred. Get the scoop after the jump.

1. Label Form Fields Above the Field

Form Field

We’ve all experienced confusion about what field applies to what label. Because we read top to bottom, it makes more sense to label a field above (before the user fills out the form). We like to take this one step further and put the label directly in the field.

Form Field

2. Users Focus on Faces

People are always trying to place a face. Even if we don’t recognize a face, we associate it with someone or something. While it’s not only important to find the right face to represent your brand, it’s equally important to direct their gaze. Research finds that users tend to first focus on the face, then direct their focus to where the person is looking. Check out this eye tracking map of a baby looking out toward the viewer. The user looks predominantly at the baby’s face.

But when the baby faces in, the user looks first at the baby, then at the content to the right.

3. Perceived Quality = Credibility

Dress for success. This one might be a bit obvious to designers, but surprisingly overlooked on so many sites. The question is, what elements define quality? According to studies, users judge the quality of the brand by the website layout, consistency, typography, color and style. It’s important not only to project professionalism in these arenas, but also to project an image that’s consistent with your brand.

4. Don’t Count on Users to Scroll

Studies show that most users do not scroll  when they first visit a site. It’s important to define youself clearly and present all critical information about your brand above the fold (the part of the site visible to users without scrolling) – especially on the homepage. This is not to say get rid of all scrollbars, but rather to pay attention to what’s being said below the scroll line.

5. Clearly and Consistently Distinguish Links

There’s no need to reinvent some wheels, especially when it comes to navigation. If you want your user to access pages wihtin your site, speak to them in a language they’re familiar with. First and foremost, links should always be consistent. If text links are always underlined, all text links should be underlined. If they’re red, they should all be red. Links should always stand apart from the rest of the text so they can be noticed. Establish some rules and stick to them. Make sure users can find what they’re looking for without having to dig too deep.

This is especially important for sites with a lot of information. Note how the New York Times always denotes links in blue. When the user rolls over the link, it underlines.

NY Times Links

6. The Ideal Search Box is 27 Characters Wide

This is an interesting one, which is especially pertinant to sites that encourage searches (eg. online help centers or extensive product searches). Studies show that extending the search box to 27 characters accommodates nearly all queries.

Note how the search field below is too short.

Short Search Field

7. White Space Improves Comprehension

This is another one that comes as no surprise to designers. If you want users to understand the information on a page, give it some room to breathe. Use white space to organize the information on your site and create hierarchy. This goes hand in hand with the concept of strategically revealing information as necessary. To avoid over-crowding a page, give users just enough information to take them to the next step.

8. Effective User Testing Doesn’t Have to be Extensive

User testing is important. However, studies have shown that just five users reveal approximately 85% of all problems with a site. The key is finding a population of test subjects that represent a cross section of your target audience.

9. Informative Product Pages Lead to Sales

Don’t be shy about revealing detailed information about your product or service. The more information you provide in an easy to understand manner, the more the likely the client is to buy. Detailed information helps users feel informed and projects brand honesty.

10. Web Ads are Largely Innefective

This is another one that comes as no surprise. How often have you cicked on a web ad? More often than not, they annoy rather than attract business. If you do choose to have web ads on your site, be careful not to annoy the users so much they leave the site. Likewise, be careful that important information on your site doesn’t appear to be a web ad. Users will surely ignore this as well.

Growing, floating, and hard to close web ads like this one are the worst offenders.

Have any to add? Let us know!