The USABILITY of a website needs to be considered from the start of a project, and checked through the development phase to its release. It begins with decisions about the mode of delivery for the content, i.e. which of the various devices (mobile phone, tablet, laptop, desktop)you plan to communicate through, and which might be most effective and convenient for users.
The usability of the content depends on there being clear signposting to different types of information available, and easy navigation to and within the different parts of the website. Web designers also need to consider how users will handle the information. Will they want to view it all, or only subsections of detail at a time? How can the content be packaged for optimal reception by different types of users?
DELIVERY DEVICES Individual delivery devices (mobile phones, tablets, laptop and desktop computers) are optimised for different functions, contexts of use and types of content.
- portability: phones and tablets can be used while moving around, whereas laptops and desktops are designed for stationary use.
- screen size and orientation: the screens of phones and tablets are relatively small, though easily switched from portrait to landscape orientation. Phones are typically used in portrait mode, whereas computers always display their content in landscape mode.
- content display: phones with their limited display area have only a single column to display text, and graphics and illustrations are placed after the paragraphs referring to them. They are unsuitable for displaying forms, or the long lines of reference materials.
NAVIGATION IN ONLINE CONTENT There should provide plenty of verbal cues to help users move purposefully around the site and find the information they need.
- Navigation aids can be provided as menus across the top of the screen on laptops and desktops, or in sidebars on either side. On mobile phones they may be relocated or turned into hamburger menus.
- Online content needs to provide a visible sequence, hierarchy or other content-relevant structure, one which allows users to form a mental model of the whole, and understand how to move around in it.
- Headings and subheadings should be used to break up the content, and allow users to scan the material to satisfy their inquiry
- Wayfinding devices, help users to return to their starting point – e.g. the house icon used signal return to the home page, and the back arrow to take them back one page
CONTENT EXTENSION DEVICES The website content can be packaged in expandable sections to declutter the screen real estate, and allow users to manage how much content they would like to access. These extension devices include:
- Linked tables of contents: lists of the various topics can be linked to separate pages on which they’re discussed.
- ‘Read more’ button or link: this takes users seeking extra information to a separate page. It should indicate what they will fine by using the link.
- Expandable sections or “accordion panels”: These can be clicked on to display extra hidden information that extends a paragraph on the page, and collapse it for users to move back to the main text.
More aspects of usability, and ways of eliciting user inputs in developing a website and its content, can be found in the ENGAGING chapter in AMOS.
More aspects of accessibility for writers and editors are discussed in the ENGAGING chapter of AMOS.