On Web Usability

by Kristen Abell

Lately, I’ve been digging into the book Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug (if you’re tempted to read it, I’m going to suggest you read his updated version – we just had this one at work, so that’s what I’m reading). I often talk with my clients about the end user experience on a website – something we all too often forget to consider when we’re planning a redesign or new website. We think about how we want it to function without thought for how the end user will want it to function. This book is a great reminder that the end user is always who we should be thinking of when planning. A few takeaways from this book:

  • Usability testing – Do it and do it often. This is usually the first step to get cut from our website development process, but after reading this book, I know I’ll fight harder to keep it a part of the process in the future. It usually doesn’t take much time, and we always learn something from it – even if it’s that there is no “typical” user. I especially loved the idea Krug presented about pre-testing – having users test websites you’re looking at for inspiration to see what works and what doesn’t.
  • Accessibility – Do it because it’s the right thing. To be fair, I’ve been trying to work on accessibility on most of my sites for awhile now, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been doing the minimum. This book makes me want to do more than that. I suspect I’ll be digging into some reads and training on accessibility next so I can take this further on my sites.
  • Good design does not always equal good usability – Not that I didn’t sorta already know this, but this clarified it a bit better for me. For example, one of the current trends in design is to make links as unobtrusive as possible. However, that means that a user has to work harder to find these links – which means they are more likely to get frustrated. Even looking at my personal blog, I’m frustrated by the fact that the links are barely noticeable compared to the regular text (will be making changes there soon). This means that when we’re designing websites, we may have to compromise on our aesthetic to make a site more user-friendly.

After reading this book, I’m looking forward to digging into Krug’s other book – Rocket Surgery Made Easy which delves a little deeper into usability, as well as putting some of his thoughts and approaches into practice.

What are your usability tips and tricks? How do you approach usability when building a new site?

On Web Usability

The End User

by Kristen Abell

Recently I changed jobs to work with websites and online presence for student affairs at my university. In my brief time in this position, I have already learned A LOT – and I’m still learning new things daily. But one thing that I’ve learned has me, well, not completely surprised, but definitely frustrated.

Student affairs has forgotten for whom they create their websites. (Okay, to be fair, not just student affairs, but this is a student affairs blog, so I’m focusing on that).

As we’ve met with various clients and website managers, I hear many of the same things: “We think this would be really cool.” “Can we add a slideshow? We want to make it look like that website.” “We want the latest look on our website.” We, we, we – well, you get the point.

In all the meetings that I’ve had with folks, I almost never hear anything about the end user – the students. How would a student use your website? Why are they coming to your site? What do they need to get from your site? None of that is even considered a majority of the time.

Have we forgotten that students are our audience, our clients, our reason for being here? Every time I have to remind someone about that (and then continue to be ignored), I have to believe that to a certain extent we have. Or maybe it’s just when it comes to tech. Every time I see a new social media account pop up when the user clearly hasn’t learned how to best engage students through the other three accounts they have, I start to think that when it comes to technology, we just want the latest thing, students be damned.

What do you think? Has technology blinded us to how to best serve students online? Are we so intent on having the newest, the best, the coolest that we’ve forgotten that students just want the easiest way to find and use our services? Have you noticed this at your institution?

The End User