Usability tips for newbie designers (Part I)

26 APR 2011 0

If you haven’t done a lot of web design but want to learn how to do it properly, this article might be a good start. It will shed some light on common mistakes newbie web designers sometimes make and and teach you how not to make poor decisions when you are designing.

Stick to the rules

Odds are that you, as an inexperienced designer, won’t be able to come up with a new type of interface that will shake your visitors and make them go wow, while remaining usable. Stick with the standard trends. Being unique and standing out in the crowd when it comes to interfaces isn’t always an advisable thing, unless you really know what you’re doing. Rules are meant to be broken, but only when you have the knowledge and experience to pull it off.

Focus on conventions

This is somewhat derived from the point above, but should be mentioned separately. The average web visitor is used to conventions (and they love them, whether they know it or not.) – so you, as a designer, should give them what they want. Titles at the top, sidebar with one or two columns at the right and the content next to the left border is a safe standard when you are learning the ropes.

Get inspired, but don’t steal

When having doubts, it’s okay to have a look at how the “big fish” have dealt with your problems. It’s okay to get inspired from a great site’s appearance and try to do something of the kind – just make sure you are putting a new work together, rather than copying exactly. The reason why I’m telling you to take a look at some of the bigger websites is that those companies have invested quite a lot of time and resources in developing them and should (Though not always) provide you with good inspiration.

Less is more

There are hundreds of millions of websites out there. Don’t simply assume that a new visitor has all the time in the world to read what you have to say and find spend minutes browsing through overly-complicated page structures. Don’t annoy your visitors, or you will lose them. Keep your interface simple, learn about basic usability principles and apply them thoroughly. You will find lots of insightful tips on this blog and more coming in future articles from this series.

Write with user experience in mind

Site usability isn’t all about the design. The content itself can make the overall browsing experience more pleasant. Break your ideas into paragraphs – no one likes to read chunks of text the size of a Dostoevsky novel. Use bullet points where applicable. Make use of headings.

Your visitors scan more than they read

… and there’s nothing you can do about it. Steve Krug explains in his great book “Don't Make Me Think” how you must make things as intuitive as possible so you will minimize the required thought  from your visitors’ perspective. Have them find what they want as quickly as possible, or they will get bored and might eventually click away or hit the Back button.

This concludes the first episode on usability tips. In the next parts we will focus on several design-specific elements.

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