In a world where almost everything we do is handled with or through a software, the standard we use in evaluating a piece of software has slightly shifted. It used to be that we characterize a good product simply by how well it does what it was meant to do. We evaluate a music player by how well it plays music, a word processing software by the plethora of tools it offer and image editing software by the extent of its customization capabilities.
With the way software development has progressed in the past decade, the issue of how users interact with the software itself has gained more prominence, helped largely by the release of the iPhone and the App Store. While the concept of user interface itself has existed for as long as computer has, it wasn’t until the 21st century tech boom that the concept has entered the mainstream. In web development itself, the idea of a user-friendly website has been a focus in the past decade or so.
User interface (UI), user experience (UX) and user-friendliness
Back when computer was still a new thing, it was strictly operated with a text-based command line interface (CLI). It was complicated and very restrictive, since you need to know the proper command and how to write them to get the computer to do what you want them to do. As technology progressed, the concept of graphical user interface (GUI) began to emerge, which enables interactions using interactive images that we’re all familiar with.
When the iPhone came out, the world was introduced to what is known as gesture-based navigation, with swipes and pinches now being used to navigate within software. Alexa and the rise of smart speakers and voice assistants enable the use of voice command as another form of interaction. This change has resulted in changing the concept of UI into the more holistic UX that encompasses every single bit of interaction between a user and a device or a piece of software.
In web development, the concept of UX isn’t just limited to website navigation. It covers all aspect of a website that concerns its users. How the webpage itself is designed, how easy it is for users to find the information they’re looking for and how well does it perform with users’ devices. The user-friendliness of a website is defined by how well a website fulfills those requirements, which cover 4 main characteristics.
Clean interface design
Since UX evolves from the concept of UI, the issue of interface design still takes center stage. If a visitor can’t figure out what’s going on in your website in 5 seconds, then you have a problem. This is why the practice of minimalist web design has been trending in the past few years. Keep your focus on as little elements as necessary and try to not bombard your visitors with a wall of text right out the gate.
Additional considerations include using a contrasting color palette to keep each element from blending with each other and avoid the use of overly dazzling colors like neon green unless they’re necessary.
Clear navigational tools
For websites with numerous sections and/or pages, making sure that your visitors know which road leads where without overwhelming them with too many road signs is necessary. For your main navigation bar, try to keep it limited to 7 items at most. Use drop-down menus to include more subsections if necessary. If you’re using a single-page website, make use of the sticky navigation bar to ensure that visitors could move to other sections easily.
Additionally, if your website is heavy on contents, you might want to think about including a search box within your navigation bar and always include a link to the ‘Contact’ page for good measure as well. Remember, conversion should always be the main goal and your visitors can’t be your customers if they don’t know how to reach you.
Proper information architecture
This concept deals with how information is presented and organized within your website. While this might seem small, informational architecture plays a major role in optimizing your website’s usability. Generally, information architecture deals with the idea that every single piece of content within your website could be found where they’re supposed to be. This means having and labeling sections and categories in a way that would make perfect sense for the average user.
The concept of information architecture ties in closely with navigation since you can’t have effective navigation if the contents of your website are awfully organized.
Website load speed, compatibility and responsive design
This last section deals with the gritty technical details of the website itself. Website load speed obviously deals with how fast your website loads. Not every member of the population has access to broadband fiber connection and you could use Google’s PageSpeed tool to see if and where your website is falling short.
Compatibility revolves around the issue of how well your webpage works with various internet browsers. Chrome has by far the biggest market share in the world right now at more than 60%, far eclipsing second-placed Internet Explorer, which stood at 12%. Looking at this data, it’s tempting to focus on Chrome and Chrome alone but that would cut your potential customers by 40%, which is a pretty sizable amount. Make sure that your page loads well with other browsers, especially Internet Explorer and Edge, which came bundled with Windows.
Responsive design is the concept in which a webpage detects what device it’s being displayed on and adapt to that device to ensure optimal viewing for users. This is useful since there are a variety of screen sizes and resolutions that are out there in the world right now and responsive web design enables your webpage to still present the same experience regardless of those factors without you having to more work. Well, other than setting up the page itself, at least.