I had the pleasure of hearing Steve Krug, author of the book Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, at the Puget Sound SIGCHI meeting on the 25th. This is a great little book that’s been on my bookshelf for a while. Steve’s a great speaker and a deep thinker about the subject of web usability, so it was an interesting talk. Some of his key points:
- There are two things that every designer overlooks: “You are here” indicators and page titles.
- “You are here” indicators need to be louder than you think they need to be in order to grab attention. These can be in the form of tabs that are shaded to match the page background (he uses StumbleUpon as an excellent example), or in any other format that makes the indicator “pop”. Steve has a confessed bias towards tabs, though.
- There needs to be a top-level “Home” option – simply having the logo link back to the home page isn’t enough. This is so that it’s easily locatable and so that people always know where they are in relation to the main page. If you use subnavigation under category tabs, center the subnavigation under the tab.
- Prominent, well-placed page titles are a must. Steve says that “if I look at a page from 50 feet away, I should be able to guess the content of the page”. This doesn’t mean that it has to be the biggest word or even the boldest word on the page. Rather, it means that the page title needs to be well-placed at the top of the content space. It should take advantage of its prominence and its location on the page. He offers up the idea that WYCIWYG (what you click is what you get): in other words, if you click on the link, the page title and the text of the link should convey the same idea. This doesn’t mean that a link named “Contact Us” links to a page with the same title; you could use a variant such as “Get in Touch With Us”, so long as the main idea is conveyed.
- “So Steve wants all sites to look the same?” No. There are exceptions to these rules (entertainment sites and sites that are meant to be puzzling, to name a couple).
- The best piece of advice I’ve heard in a while: if something on a web page doesn’t work for a group of people using the site, that’s not an indicator that you have to scrap the design and start over. Steve is a big advocate for making the smallest tweak possible that makes the site more usable.