When creating any website, you should think about your users first. They are the people who will actually visit your site with fresh eyes to acquire something from you. Whether that be a product or service, information or entertainment. Your entire design process should center around them because, essentially, you want to provide what they're looking for.
I'm a very design-oriented person. I care about how things look, how they feel and how easy (or enjoyable) it is to use. Which is ironic because I look like shit half the time but that can be remedied by avoiding mirrors. You can imagine turned off screens or anything with a slight reflection can be problematic to my day-to-day life.
Moving on. I was recommended several books by a few people in my network about web design. One book, "Don't Make Me Think" by Steve Krug was mentioned the most. Looking more into it, it wasn't actually a book on web design at all, rather it was a book on web usability. Interesting. I bought the revised edition since it added new content for mobile usability. Something that wasn't as prevalent when the book first came out in 2000.
Disclaimer: Since starting my coding bootcamp journey the book has collected dust so I'm only part way through with it. However, just like with WebMD, a quick Google search made me an expert in the field.
The premise of the book is your website's user experience (UX) should be so simple that people shouldn't have to think when browsing it. On the designer's side, we pore over useless details because it's our project, and we want to make it look good, and it's going to have our name on it. But on the client's side, they're most likely not using your website the way you expect them to.
What do I mean? The short version is we're always in a hurry or don't care. The long version is:
We don't read pages, we scan them.
We're really good at scanning. We don't actually read every word presented in front of us. We've been doing this our entire lives with newspapers just like with websites.
We don't make optimal choices, we make the first reasonable one
We don't take the time to weigh our available options on a website. We click on the first thing that makes sense. Just like with programming, there isn't much penalty for picking the wrong option. We're always one "back button" away from restarting.
We don't figure out how it works, we muddle through.
It's never important to us how a website or any of its elements work. We don't care and won't take the time to understand it. We usually find something that works and stick to it.
Throughout the book Steve Krug talks about UX. But what exactly does that mean? Dictionary.com defines it as "the overall experience of a person using a product such as a website or computer application, especially in terms of how easy or pleasing it is to use." Quite simply, if your website's user experience sucks, people will shy away from it. Krug goes into great detail on how to dumb down websites to make it easier, or more pleasurable, to navigate. He calls it Advance Common Sense and I think that's the perfect combination of words to describe it. These are some of his basic principles:
1. Design for Scanning
Always use universally accepted conventions. We know when we see a "stop sign" and we can understand what it means without hesitation. But, more importantly, many other countries use the same red, octagonal sign. We can carry this ideology over in UX by using universally accepted elements like icons, wording and the location of important elements like site titles. Other ways to design your website for scanning is to create visual hierarchies and to make it obvious what's clickable.
2. Easy Navigation
Put simply, if nobody can easily find what they're looking for, they're going to leave. Your navigation throughout your entire site should be persistent. Your layout should be very similar if you can't make them exact copies. Every page should have a clear name as to tell the user where they are. Breadcrumbs are a great way to do this! Krug states that a user should be able to get where they want within 1-3 clicks from the homepage.
3. Don't Make Me Think!
Just to hammer out this dead horse a bit further. User's should just get it. The more time they have to spend figuring things out, the increased likelihood of them going back to their search results to find a more clearer site.
Big companies put millions of dollars into usability testing – watching regular Joe Schmoe navigate through their website to see where their eyes track, the links they click and how fast (or slow) it takes for them to get where they need to be. As a single web developer, we don't have the luxury of dumping this much money into studies like this, but we have friends, don't we? Right, guys?