In recent usability testing for a Balance client, we uncovered a series of items that frustrated users. These things are typical on an information-rich site with lots of documents and images. Below, I describe what frustrated users and best practice solutions to improve usability.
Users were frustrated by:
1) Unexplained steps that appeared before they could access the document they wanted. The site asked users to select their state and another piece of information, each on a separate screen, in order to provide a tailored document, but there was no explanation of why users were being asked these questions. Nor did the site offer users a chance to “skip this step” and just provide a general (untailored) document. If an invalid choice was made, the error message read: “An illegal choice has been detected. Please contact the site administrator.”
Make pathways to information direct. When users make a choice, they expect to get to the information or document on the next screen. If you need users to make additional choices before showing them a document, explain why. And, write error messages tailored to the task.
2) Too many link choices and other details on a main list of documents. When displaying a list of documents, the site linked two file formats of the document – without user-friendly names – plus a ShareThis link for every document. Visible tags for each document were also listed and linked. Users were confused by all the choices for each document. The page was cluttered and hard to scan.
Minimize the choices on a list of documents or events to help users scan for what is relevant to them. Too much information on a list makes it harder to scan and choose.
3) Nothing but images in an “Idea Gallery.” The site presented a good number of images for the different ways the organization’s product has been used, but users saw only a series of images on the first screen of the Idea Gallery. When they clicked on an image to learn more, they just saw a larger image with a short, often undescriptive, title. Users wanted more specifics about each project pictured. And they said it would be helpful if they were offered links to related in-depth or technical information elsewhere on the site for the images.
Use the opportunity of an image gallery to provide details and link to related information. Pictures are a good way to draw people in; sometimes people are more likely to read text if it accompanies an image.
4) No Home button. Many users did not know how to get back to the home page. The site didn’t have a “Home” button, even though the organization’s logo in the upper left was linked to the home page – as is conventional on websites. But many users didn’t know that convention.
Provide a prominent home button, preferably in the main navigation bar, on all pages except the home page.
5) Document thumbnails were not linked. The site showed an image of a key industry checklist on a page with related information, which was an important topic in the organization’s specific industry. But that checklist was too small to read, and it was not linked to larger images or a PDF version. Users knew this was an important document, but they could not access it.
When possible, link thumbnail documents to the full document, and link thumbnail images to larger versions with more information.
Content is the most important element of a website: that’s why people go to websites. If they stay on a site, it’s to read the content. If your site contains rich information and documents, you don’t want users to leave your site – or even be frustrated with it – because they face usability barriers in getting the content. Think about how your users will approach your content, and make the pathways to content the most direct as possible.