- Assume user knows nothing about your site
Never assume the user is familiar with the function of your website. Put their needs first. Make your site citizen-centric, not government-centric. The user has specific tasks they need to accomplish, reflect that in your site structure.
- Label links appropriately
Links are gateways into your site: Underline or unequivocally identify text links and make buttons look clickable. Write meaningful link labels. If you use icons, label them clearly.
- Provide users a way to escape
Ideally, users will never want to leave a site. However, there needs to be a means of exit on the web just as there is in buildings. Exit signs point to an exit. This can be resolved two ways. First, always provide a “Home” link high up on the page. Second, use Breadcrumb Navigation on every page to show the user the path they have followed to get deep into a site.
- Don’t bury contact information
Typically users will scan quickly through the high level navigation and content of a site. When they do not find exactly what they are looking for, they immediately look for contact information. A typical web convention is to provide a contact link in the footer. Ideally, contact information should be placed above the fold (accessible without having to scroll down) of a web page if possible and be prominent on the home page.
- Don’t experiment with unconventional navigation
Sites that employ unusual navigation and terminology to stand out from the crowd create usability problems. Most of these sites eventually retreat to conventional menu systems. Stick to common navigational practices and label navigation clearly – don’t use catchy terms.
- Use graphics sparingly
Don’t clutter web pages with unnecessary images, media, or animation. In addition to slowing down a page download time, it can clutter a screen by obstructing the natural scanning process of the human eye. When used properly graphics support the content and do not distract the user.
- Make the homepage a gateway to the rest of the site
The homepage should highlight the main activities of a site. “Bubble up” content to show users what they’ll find. Define a start point for new users.
- Don’t hide search
If the site utilizes search, put a search box on every page. If the search is limited, let the user know. Don’t put two search boxes on a page, even if they search different areas of the site.
- Stay on message
Keep informational copy concise – users typically scan on the web. Use bullet points, paragraph headers, and active sentences. Don’t use jargon or cute talk. When content for the site is complete, go back and cut the word count by half.
- Conduct usability tests
Find five people to test a site. Watch them navigate and attempt tasks as they “think aloud” their actions. It’s a problem if more than one tester can’t do or find something. Remember, it’s not the users’ fault if they have trouble: it’s a design flaw.