Usability vs. Design

Website creation can sometimes walk a fine line between beautiful design and practical functionality. These two sides always seem to be at odds with one another at some point during the creation of a website. As a designer you want a site to be a feast for the eyes, something that sets the client apart from everyone else. As a developer, you want it as easy to use as possible for a wide audience of users. What many people forget is that usability and design must go hand in hand, harmoniously; a successful website cannot have one without the other.

Look at your clients client! The first and foremost function of the Internet is information. Pages upon pages of content exist out there, all targeting different users. One of the key elements of getting the design right is to know your user base. For example, what browsers do they typically use? Is there an age group that the design needs to target? You wouldn’t use butterflies and flowery graphics on a car company’s website!

Another key element is actually structuring the information a client gives to you. You can think of it in terms of a pyramid: the most important block is at the very top, with the rest of the blocks in the pyramid going down in level of importance. The way this translates into design is basically how the page is laid out. Many designers refer to putting the most important information “above the fold,” which is the first part of the website that is viewable in a user’s browser. This is the best place to put the message of the website, whether it is a mission statement or a brief summary of a company. However, this area can quickly be “junked up” by stuffing as much information as possible in it. Like hitting a mosquito with a cannonball, it is a little overkill. Keeping it simple and elegant is the best way to convey your message and keep everything usable!

One other aspect of a functional, beautiful website is how it works behind the scenes. Going back to knowing your user base: if your website is cutting edge with loads of flashy bells and whistles, there is a huge chance that people using older browsers will not have a great end user experience! So when the site is built out and programmed, code it with graceful degradation in mind. By doing it this way even users with much older browsers will still have a rich, satisfying website experience.

Users have many browsers at their fingertips Also, test your site as much as possible in major browsers. This will help you catch any major bugs, as well as seeing how different graphical elements render. A good example of this is forms: Internet Explorer 8 and below can display forms that look worlds different from forms viewed in Webkit-based browsers. Even just spot checking during the development process can save you headaches and loads of time in the future.

In all, a good foundation of functionality and content with a well thought out design is necessary for a successful website. Each should be custom-tailored to the specific client and user base. Keeping this in mind during the process will help you create something truly wonderful! Please contact us to learn more!