Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Web Usability Top 10 Peeves

Okay, so it seems as if everyone has a "top 10". I'll join in the fun and add my list (for this month, anyhow):

10. "We need a blog/wiki/web site."

What for?

If you can't tell me 1) what audience wants it, 2) what content will be there and 3) how you will maintain it, don't bother. Trust me: you will struggle to come up with engaging, current content on a regular basis that no one else has already contributed to the web-o-sphere. Instead, spend time with your family, or donate your services to the needy. I'm not kidding.

9. "We don't have any budget for usability on our project. We'll select a big, respected vendor and implement what they've done for others."

Super! Then you can watch me do the 'I Told You So' dance after you lose your usability budget three times over on training and support for a poorly-chosen system.

Usability should be part of your vendor evaluation. Just because they are big and respected doesn't mean they have done any human factors work. And--even if they have--they haven't done it with YOUR users in YOUR environment meeting YOUR usage scenarios.

8. "Our team uses software, so our team is qualified to design and evaluate usability."

Gosh, we all use software! And yay for that. But if you are developing something for a specific audience, involve that audience. I know this from personal experience: I designed a mobile interface for sales reps for a medical company. When looking for a very short navigation label to refer to "file documents" I chose the abbreviated term "docs". When I tested the application, the testers told me that "docs" means "doctors". That's a significant difference in meaning, and I'm grateful to have them help me make a better product, so I don't look like a narrow-minded IT moron. (At least not because of that.)

7. "We don't have any budget for accessibility on our project, but it's okay, because we have no users with accessibility needs."

Really? Have you polled every single user to see if they are colorblind or use alternative input methods? Conformance with most of the WCAG 2.0 Guidelines is very cheap. Just do it, because it's the right thing to do.

6. "Why are you so expensive? My neighbor's high school kid does programming." (variant: "My husband designs web sites and he looked at our design and said that we should do it this way.")

The kid may be awesome, but s/he's only beginning to learn what 20 years of experience and deep industry knowledge has taught our team. Does s/he understand color theory? Usability engineering? Sustainable technical architecture? Technical writing? Will s/he be there to support it when it breaks? Does s/he work for and understand the industry and its customers? Does s/he have the context of the regulatory and organizational issues within the company? (And are you in violation of some non-disclosure somewhere? Mm-hm, I thought so.)

5. "Our site should have [no more than three clicks to get to content]/[no more than seven navigation items]/[no horizontal scrolling]."

Ah, you've been reading usability gurus again. That's really excellent! However...these are not hard and fast rules. Engineers tend to love data-rich sites with no white space, where musicians may not. Teachers love to have clever ideas, where archeologists may want to search for research. Those are all very different audiences, scenarios and implementations. Findability is as much a function of the scent of information as the number of clicks.

Make the effort to understand your audience and do research before you set forth requirements that may not apply. But--please--set them forth if they make sense, and demand adherence!

4. "We have no budget for usability. We will do usability ourselves if you give us a template."

See #6 and #8.

3. "We don't have any budget for usability. Can you just take a look at this and tell us if it's usable?"

No, and it's not because I don't want to. You can't check the "We Did Usability" box if one person gives their opinion.

(Incidentally, I ask this question of each person who interviews with us. One interviewee told me, "Oh, sure! That's called a 'heuristic evaluation'." No, it's not. An heuristic evaluation involves identifying heuristics, then evaluators test the site against those heuristics. Don't get me wrong: an heuristic evaluation is a super technique as part of your usability inspection, but one person giving their 'professional' opinion does not a usability effort make.)

2. "We need to bring in outside firms to do design/usability/strategy. We get the best, most creative work from third parties."

Really? I thought our company hired the best people. Like you and me.

1. "Thanks for your awesome usability services. Our awesome site has launched, and it is so much more awesome because of your work! We are done! Awesome!"

Awesome! Hooray for us! But--technology, people and needs change. Keep evaluating and adjusting. That's the beauty of the web: it's changeable, and you should be, too.

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