Complying with Design Conventions and Usability Guidelines
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
The entire concept of "Web design" is a misnomer. Individual project teams are not designing the Web any more than individual ants are designing an anthill. Site designers build components of a wholeespecially now that users are viewing the Web as a single, integrated resource. Unfortunately, much of the Web is like an anthill built by ants on LSD. Many sites don't fit into the big picture and are too difficult to use because they deviate from expected norms.
Defining Standards and Conventions
Standard: Eighty percent or more of Web sites use the same design approach. Users strongly expect standard elements to work a certain way when they visit a new site because that's how things almost always work.
Convention: About 50 to 79 percent of Websites use the same design approach. Users expect conventional elements to work a certain way when they visit a new site because that's how things usually work.
Confusion: With these elements, no single design approach dominates, and even the most popular approach is used by less than half of Web sites. For such design elements, users don't know what to expect when they visit a new site.
We must eliminate confusing design elements and move as far as possible into the realm of design conventions. Even better, we should establish design standards for every important Web site task. Standards enhance users' sense of mastery over a site, help them get things done, and increase their overall satisfaction with a site.
Seven Reasons for Standard Design Elements
Standards ensure that users:
1. Know what features to expect 2. Know how these features will look in the interface 3. Know where to find these features on the site and on the page 4. Know how to operate each feature to achieve their goal 5. Don't need to ponder the meaning of unknown design elements 6. Don't miss important features because they overlook a design element that is not standard 7. Don't get nasty surprises when something doesn't work as expected
Even if you don't believe in the theoretical arguments in favor of user interface standards, the empirical evidence strongly favors complying with existing design conventions and usability guidelines. In this chapter, we have seen that the users most often:
1. Go to a search engine and type in two to three words 2. Look at the top few listings on the SERP 3. Visit some of these sites but leave them after less than two minutes if they don't seem sufficiently useful 4. View most site pages for less than half a minute
With this little time to communicate your product benefits to prospective customers, you want everything else out of the way. If a user spends 27 seconds looking at a product page, you don't want them to spend most of it wondering about your navigation design or puzzling over other user interface elements. If your design follows conventions, they can allocate their attention to your content. That's the simple business rationale for complying with standards.
There are certainly cases where it's OK to deviate from the usability guidelines. That's why they are called "guidelines"because they usually, but not always, hold. Take Victoria's Secret as an example. The very successful e-commerce site of this famous fashion and lingerie company usually scores among the top sellers on the Web. The nature of the company's products and positioning mean that it can do certain things on its site that would be a mistake for almost any other company. For example, the Web site attracts large numbers of visitors every time it streams an hour-long video production. Most Web sites would do better with shorter video clips.
Even those sites that violate some guidelines are only successful if they comply with the vast majority of them. A few sites are so special that they can get away with violating most of the guidelines, but they are truly the exceptions.