How Usable Is Your Website?

So who might ask, “How Usable Is Your Website?” It’s probably not visitors to your website since most will not know what the word Usable means. They vote with their mouse. They either stay a little while or click they’ve disappeared. Perhaps if you’re a website owner, you’re not even sure what the question means.

Perhaps you might be surprised to hear that on November 3rd this year, the world celebrated the first World Usability Day. Around the world many people were trying to make sure that many more people would know what Usability means. However unfortunately it seems that it was mostly people who know what Usability means talking to other people who already knew what Usability meant. Here in Montreal, it was difficult to find any World Usability Day celebrations since they were all happening in Quebec City at the Intracom2005 conference for IT professionals who likely knew about Usability.

Usability is concerned with how well things work for their users. For websites, it measures the ease with which visitors can achieve what they want to do when they visit your website. It’s a very important subject. The Canadian Marketing Association featured an article on their website within the past month that addresses this subject. It’s called How Usable Is Your Website? Tara O’Doherty of Cossette is the author, and I became aware of it in that fine blog that Mitch Joel writes. It includes a detailed questionnaire of all the elements that a usable website should have. The content is excellent and very complete. The only small addition is that websites should appear correctly in the Mozilla Firefox browser as well since this is used by an increasing proportion of Internet users. The questionnaire is too complex for most website owners, but they certainly should insist that their website designers understand the questionnaire and build websites that score well on all factors.

Unfortunately it is still only a minority of web designers who understand these principles and build websites that are usable. There are so many websites that fail miserably. A very high-profile example of this was showcased on World Usability Day in an Open Letter to the Disney Store UK. This was written by Molly E. Holzschlag of the Web Standards Project (WaSP). The Web Standards Project is a grassroots coalition fighting for standards that ensure simple, affordable access to web technologies for all. In other words, websites should work for most visitors. This includes accessibility for those who may need slightly bigger text or some other accommodation to make their website viewing more satisfactory. The UK is farther along this road than North America. However it should be a no-brainer to make sure that as many visitors to a website as possible can enjoy the experience. Who knows they may even buy something when they visit a usable website so it should be a win/win situation.