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Put the User first; Keep it Clean, Keep it Simple

by Jason Holland, Interactive Graphic Designer

The most common goal of a company’s website is to convert visitors into customers and in turn generate revenue— So it should be the goal every company to create a user experience that is intuitive and pleasing to the eye. To do this, a company should put itself in the shoes of the user.

What makes the experience intuitive for the user?

The user experience, also known as usability, is how the user interacts with the website. How do they navigate from the home page? How do they get to the product pages and then get through the check out process to complete a sale? These are questions that usability must answer. If a visitor to the site gets frustrated or lost on a site, they are likely to very quickly leave the site and head over to the competitor.

First off, your site should be easy to navigate. Labels in the navigation should be clear and make sense to the user. If the user clicks on “About Us” it should take them to a page that gives information about the company, not to a contact form. If your site is an eCommerce site, it should be clear that clicking a button like “Shop” will take them to a page where they can buy the company’s products.

Things like the check out process should be as simple and straight forward as possible— and ask a customer only for the information necessary to complete the sale. If a form, for example, is too long and asks too many questions, the user is likely to leave without filling it out and therefore stop the transaction from being completed.

A great example of usability are "call to action" links or buttons. It’s common to use a link labeled “Learn More;” What might be more useful is a specific call to action that says something like “Learn more about x...” “Buy Now” is pretty straightforward, as is “Add to Cart.” Call to action links or buttons should be clear and tell the user what is going to happen next when they click them.

The Internet has been around long enough that there are certain best practices that users have come to expect. Things like the logo being up in the top left. A search bar in the header. The main navigation either in the header or left sidebar. A main content area. A sidebar of additional useful information. And a footer. Users have come to expect to consistently find these things in their respective places.

The main goal here is to keep it simple and intuitive. Don’t make the user hunt and peck to find what they want. Convoluting the experience only frustrates the user and vastly increases the chance they’ll leave the site as fast as they got there.

What is user interface and why does it matter?

In addition to how a site functions, how it looks plays an equally important role. A solid and clean interface does several things. First, it reinforces the brand. Second, a well thought-out design tells the user that the company cares about their customers. Visually, things should be as intuitive as the experience.

Buttons should look like buttons, and clearly indicate that they should be clicked. Links should have a distinct color that distinguishes them from copy, either through underlining (an old practice) or a different colored text.

If it is an eCommerce site, the product images should look appealing. It’s more appealing to see an attractive shot of a product that is clean and looks professional. If a product is taken against a white background as opposed to a busy background, the user will likely be more interested in the product. A great example of this is Apple’s online store [1]. Apple is famous for its clean product imagery set against a white background.

Think like the user.

A key way to think about a company’s website is to think like the user. What are they looking for? What information is most important to them? A company may be particularly proud of awards they’ve received and want to prominently feature these on the home page. But is this information really useful to the user? Featuring the content the user wants upfront helps keep them on your site. Maybe those highlighted awards could be featured somewhere in the footer of the page— employed as an unobtrusive way of reinforcing brand trust.

The goal of usability is to create an experience that is intuitive and straightforward to the user. Buttons should look like buttons and they should be clear call to actions that tell the user exactly what will happen when they click on them. How a website looks and how it works are equally important in creating an experience that will convert visitors into customers who will stay and return to a company’s website. The most successful user experience is one that puts the user in charge. What information does the user want? How do they get around the site? How do they feel about how it looks? These are questions that a good user experience seeks to answer, and to do so clearly and elegantly.

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