Website Usability – Listen up you “revolutionary” designers!

I remember around 3 or 4 years ago, I picked up a big book dealing with Web Design Usability standards. I read through almost the entire one – 1000 pages or more! And I discovered that lots of what was mentioned, I had already figured out through online research, articles and forums I had read through, while trying to keep up to date as a freelance web designer. Nonetheless it convinced me further, that following certain simple rules, will help keep your visitors happy.

The designer in me, loves to see revolutionary design, different ways of dealing with the same concept, whether it’s an information based website, an online shop or god knows what. BUT: when creating our own websites, we must always consider the target audience. And in order to have an idea about what the average website user knows about techie stuff, I always use this rule of thumb:

“Would my mother know what to do on this website?”

My mother (64) , considered very “technical” in her generation; has been working with computers in her job for 30 years. Mind you – as a programmer for the better part of that, coding in COBOL. She is not very aware of online shopping, very wary of giving people her credit card number, in fact – she’s only had one for about 7 years now.

She knows about how to program, because this was taught to her in a course in the 1970s. She doesn’t know what HTML or CSS is. She has no clue how images are created in Photoshop. She will not know the difference between a Flash animation and an animated GIF. What she knows is, there’s a page called HOME, that’s the beginning of the site, and from there, it should be clear what this site has to offer.

So here are a few rules, when designing websites aimed at the “general public” (if you’re designing for the tech savvy elite of web designers and the like, you have a little more to play with though).

  1. Call your homepage “Home”. Don’t get too creative!
  2. The quickest way to get to the “Home” page is by clicking the logo on the top left corner of the website. Ensure that there is a logo there, it also says the name of the site, and it is clickable and sends you to the homepage!
  3. Navigation must be obvious, clearly placed towards the left or top of the site “above the fold”!
  4. Don’t get creative in naming links! My mother should know what you mean!
  5. If my mother cannot find what she’s looking for, there must be a Sitemap, and a Search “above the fold”!
  6. If you use a column based layout, 2 or 3 columns, the right hand column is for ads and secondary information. The first things the visitor will look at is the middle, the top and the left side of a website, if they cannot find what they’re looking for, then they will look at the right.
  7. If it’s an ad, it should look like an ad. (unless you want to trick people). Nothing is more frustrating than clicking on something expecting new information, and ending up on some advertising landing page.
  8. People love the back button. Ensure that it’s functional! Warnings about having to “resubmit forms” are scary to non-tech people and cause frustration
  9. Waiting is a pain. Most people will not enjoy waiting longer than 5 seconds, unless they are absolutely sure it will be worth it! So think twice about using that 1024x768pixel high quality photograph as a background!
  10. A website should NOT start with a flash intro! Many people are in a hurry and do not want a blinking “Loading” screen to welcome them to your site.
  11. Too many flashing and blinking things can give people epileptic seizures. (OK maybe I’m exaggerating, but they’re still annoying)
  12. Anything “below the fold” will be less obvious, and not viewed by a significant number of your visitors. Important stuff goes up top!
  13. Backwards compatibility is a must! My 64 year old mother doesn’t care that IE6 is an ancient monster which should have been slaughtered ages ago! Neither does she bother to buy a new pc with a 1280×960 resolution monitor. (after all, the old 15″ CRT monitor still works fine!), so make sure your site is viewable on smaller screens and older browsers, and at any cost avoid horizontal scroll bars from showing up!



  1. wonker Said:

    Interesting blog, I’ll try and spread the word.

  2. Builder Said:

    Great article, thanks for the information.

  3. hedonist666 Said:

    Thanks for the comment guys!

  4. littleriver1 Said:

    I wish everyone would follow these rules.

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