Six Usability Success Factors

User-centered design is about building websites that fulfill the goals and desires of its users, and at the heart of this concept is a user must be able to effectively interact with your website.

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1. User Task Analysis

The most important and obvious thing to test for is whether users are able to accomplish their tasks and goals when they come to your site. Not only that, you have to ensure they're able to do so in the best and most efficient way possible.

The first thing that must be done is determine what the core user tasks are. For example, in a blog, some critical user tasks are reading blog posts, being able to find older posts and leaving comments.

Perform a task analysis for each task. Evaluate task performance under these considerations:

Evaluating user tasks is a little tricky because many things associated with this are subjective, can vary greatly between different users and require you to create your own criteria for what can be considered a success.

That said, one of the best and easiest ways to perform task analysis is remote user testing. You can test participants regardless of their location, and you save the money related to the logistics of conducting your own user testing studies (booking a location, equipment, searching for participants, etc.).

2. Readability

Content is at the heart of any type of website and not being able to read and understand the user interface is a hindrance to one's ability to perform tasks efficiently and accurately.

Readability hinges on these considerations:

For most sites, it's imperative that the user be able to move through multiple web pages as easily as possible. Navigability consists of numerous user interface components, such as navigation menus, search boxes, links within the copy of a webpage, sidebar widgets that display recent or top content and so on.

Here are the major considerations for when you're testing your site's navigability:

There are numerous tools available to help you evaluate the usability of your site's navigation and information architecture. Most evaluations of this nature should be undertaken before the site launches. For example, testing the intuitiveness and accuracy of content categories is a good idea before the website grows bigger because it may be more difficult to change when the site generates more content.

There are numerous methods for testing navigability. Card sorting is an activity where you place content categories on cards and ask participants to place them in groups. This gives you an insight on how to develop your content hierarchies and content relationships, as well as test any existing organizational systems. Tree testing involves generating a list of topics and subcategories and then tests how well and how easy it is to find a category based on the tree.

4. Accessibility

A website should be accessible to everyone, including those of us with disabilities that affect how we experience the web.

When evaluating a website's accessibility, it's important to look at it from a universal design point of view. People often mistake web accessibility as being only for those with barriers like blindness or mobility issues. However, we should broaden our view to include anything that might hinder a user accessing your site from a number of browsing situations. This is especially critical with the rapid adoption of mobile devices, tablets, netbooks and web-enabled TVs and gaming consoles. Internet users also have a much wider array of web browsers than ever before: IE, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera and so forth. The general goal of evaluating a site's web accessibility is how well it deals with these varying circumstances.

Here are considerations to take into account when performing web accessibility analysis:

5. Website Speed

One factor of usability that's not completely evident is the need for a website to be speedy and responsive. In fact, web users deeply care about how fast they're able to get the information they need. The better performing a website is, the more efficient a user will be when completing his desired tasks.

Here are considerations for evaluating the speed of a website:

Luis Vieira wrote an excellent article, The Perception of Performance Opens in a new window for SitePoint that provides an overview that addresses a user's expectations regarding a website's performance and how it relates to usability.

6. User Experience

User experience (UX), at its core, tries to study and evaluate how pleasant a website is to use. This factor is largely subjective because it deals with user perception, which can be vastly different from one user to the next.

The way UX can be evaluated is through user feedback. By asking questions of users, you can gain a better understanding of how they feel about the site.

Some considerations when evaluating UX:

When evaluating user experience, a qualitative approach is often the only option. We can't accurately quantify such subjective things as feelings and emotions. Through the use of web design feedback tools and surveying tools, we can gain some insights into how users feel.