There was a time when web projects used to run for years before the first release was done and such projects, once live, lived on the web for years without any updates. The purpose of these websites was mostly informational and unless there was a change in the business rules or in the core product offering, clients almost never had to make any updates to their sites.
So what has really changed in recent years? How did these web-projects come to become the modern day web-products?
As technology evolved, so have the customer’s expectations of the websites that they use and their associated behaviors. Websites are no longer just informational – more and more people rely on the web for running their businesses, households, leisure, careers — virtually everything. With this changing landscape, it is now imperative for businesses to adapt to the changing needs of their customers and appeal to their target audiences to get ahead of their competition and generate value from website visits.
To compete successfully in today’s new digital landscape, setting up a customary website or an app isn’t enough. In fact having a beautiful, but functionally inadequate website could prove detrimental. In one study, Adobe found that:
“38% of online users will stop engaging with a website if the content is too long or unattractive in its layout or imagery.”
Designing and launching a successful web product is now a continuous cycle — not a one-time effort — consisting first of building a website that invites customers to interact with it, gathering data from these visitors, and making continuous and meaningful improvements. In order to build a website that caters to the needs of its customers who have many demands placed on their time and attention, modern design and content, and aesthetic and functional navigational considerations are being built into the architecture of new websites.
Websites also need to be marketed for the relevant audience to find them and this is only achievable when the website actively engages its visitors and understands their preferences. This is impossible with traditional design as there are no inbuilt feedback mechanisms or modern web elements that capture the visitors needs and actions on the site. Businesses nowadays even devise strategies to encourage their visitors to take actions on their website – interact with a chatbot or download resources or purchase products online and leave reviews.
To adequately and successfully serve the needs of the exacting modern web consumer, developers must consider several distinct but deeply interconnected aspects such as:
- Utility : the web product serves its purpose, solves the user’s problems, and provides useful content
- Usability : the web product is convenient, clear, logical, and is easy to use, ie., responsive and integrated to be used on different types of devices and is linked to social media platforms to enable discussions and sharing
- Desirability : the web product is visually-appealing and creates consistently positive experiences for its users through its design
- Accessibility : users find it easy to navigate and interact with the web product despite their differing abilities
- Findability : the more findable (Search Engine Optimized – SEO) a web product is, the higher its traffic and the higher is its trustworthiness and its perceived importance
- Analytics : data gathering and analysis in order to provide better user experiences
Let us review these factors in more detail.
Utility is the web product’s ability to serve its users’ interests, provide value, and enhance their lives and businesses. No matter how aesthetic-looking or how accessible a website is, users will go elsewhere if it doesn’t serve their primary needs. When there are budgetary constraints, utility must be prioritised over usability, as users are likely to put up (to a certain extent) with a website that isn’t highly usable if it provides functional value (such as Wikipedia, which has sky-high utility but isn’t the most easy to use).
To create a web product that has high utility, the web product must provide features that users expect the website to provide. It is therefore essential to anticipate the users’ needs, expectations and provide content or products that are value-adding, current, relevant, credible, easy to read, organised, and actionable.
- Create original content wherever possible or put a unique spin on it to make it interesting and informative to your users.
- Utilise resources that help explain your company such as case studies, video explainers, and other marketing assets, but don’t just dump these all together – make it easy to find and interesting to browse through.
- Organise content by time, location, topic, and relevance to the category of target audience.
- Incorporate modern web design elements, such as high quality photos and icons, and optimal use of white space to reduce fatigue.
- Ensure your content is easy to read by opting for simplicity wherever possible, and using legible user-friendly fonts.
Usability of a website/web product is gauged from the perspective of the end-users; it’s the ease with which the website can be accessed, and how efficient and satisfying it is to use.
According to ISO 9241–11:2018 (Ergonomics of human-system interaction) describes usability as “the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specific goals, with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified user context”.
Factors determining usability include:
- Effectiveness : the degree of accuracy with which users can achieve their goals in using the website. Examples that increase a web-product’s effectiveness include form validations that reduce errors, using simple, easy to understand language, having multiple links in various places to the most-used content, removing inconsistencies in the layouts, including a well-designed search experience.
- Efficiency : the speed with which a user can perform their objectives. Examples that increase efficiency include optimising for mobile and slow connections, making the design intuitive, simplifying submenus, properly structuring the site-map, clarifying vague calls to action, labelling buttons clearly, providing multiple paths (one simpler than the other) to achieve the same goals.
- Engagement : the satisfaction and enjoyment that users derive from using the website. Engagement is improved by carefully considered layouts, ease of navigation, readable typography, guiding callouts.
- Error Tolerance : this is the website’s reaction to user’s errors. Websites with a high tolerance for errors let the users backtrack their mistakes and guide them gently through any hang-ups by providing accurate feedback to the user, such as pointing the cursor to the required fields that are incomplete.
- Learnability : the ease with which the user becomes familiar with the interface and the navigation of the website. This contributes to comfortable subsequent visits. To improve ease of learning, design the website with due consideration to the user’s existing mental models and explain anything new.
Read Part 2 of the series here