Usability is a hot topic, for good reason. It is so essential for web designers and developers to be conscious of how people will be using a site and this concept ties in with Information Architecture (IA) practices as well. Usability is another one of those ?hidden? aspects of any successful website.
Wait, what is usability?
In general, it refers to the relationship a user has with the tools they happen to be working with. For our example, that tool is a web site. For the site to be successful, people need to not only be able to use it, but use it as efficiently as possible. Now that might sound pretty obvious but there is a lot more that goes into it than you think. Things need to be clean and concise and assist the user in accomplishing what they came to the website for in the first place. Things like pop-up ads and extensive (and often unneeded) functionality distract and frustrate users, reducing usability. This can also translate into potentially lower ROI or less-than-satisfactory marketing results.
In my previous article on IA, we introduced the method of planning out what information you want visitors to your site to be able to access. Usability takes the next step and helps web designers plan out how they will access and use that information. In an article from BBC News, Dr. Jakob Nielsen says:
“Users have become accustomed to that interactive environment,” and “Now, when people go online they know what they want and how to do it.”
This means that as everyone gets more comfortable with using the Internet and web applications, they are developing certain expectations or assumptions as to how things work. That is not to say that your site has to look like everyone else?s in order for people to use it. What it does mean is that general ideas of layout and relationships between information should be taken into account. This is why you will almost always see top and/or side navigation on sites.
There is an endless amount of information on usability. Navigation placement is a miniscule part of what goes into achieving good usability but it should give a good idea of the kind of stuff I?m talking about. I encourage everyone to dive into this subject further and learn as much as possible!.