The Physiology of Usability Design

The Muscle, Brain and Soul of Usability Design

Does your usability design have a ‘brain’?

The brain of web sites and social media is the integrated content strategy.  Whether you’re designing online content for a Fortune 1000 corporation, small business, government or non-profit, your organization has a direction and a purpose, and you need an integrated content strategy to focus your resources and achieve your goals on the web and social media.

Has your user experience team given any thought to developing a content strategy? If your team cannot clearly answer questions such as “How is all the site content being prioritized?” or “What is this content supposed to achieve for us?” or “Who are the 2-3 target audiences for this content?” then you need to develop a content strategy, which also includes a content requirements plan to itemize, evaluate and prioritize your web and social media content — not just for today’s projects but for the future, too.

If a single generation of a web design cannot be sustained because it cannot accommodate new content and applications without distorting or mangling the original design, then it’s not scalable. Usability design should allow for continuous improvement of a web site, a kind of organic process that allows for change as the rule, not the exception, i.e. not ‘what we are now,’ but ‘what we will become.’

Does your usability design have ‘muscle’?

Web sites that perform tasks for their users must have muscle to do it. That means not just search engines, payment processing, and other applications and databases that make the site work, but also the information design helps users with the task of scanning, reading and interacting with content. Sites should be designed based on task analysis and task flow rather than by gathering heaps of content.

Too often, early discussions about web design and redesign centre around ‘look and feel.’ In a usability design project, one of the first tasks should be making the entire organization know that it is not just about what the site will look like, but also how it will be constructed, how it will be used, and how it will be managed.

Often organizations will undertake a major web design/redesign, and then consult their users afterward to try to confirm whether they did a good job designing the site. You can’t please everyone, but once you know how people want to use your site (task flow) and what content and applications are important to them, then you must consider these when developing your prototype web design.

However, don’t be held hostage by user feedback or usability studies. When you continue to over-research what people want from your site(s), you can set up expectations on the part of your users that cannot be reasonably met. You cannot possibly offer everything on your site that users want. Your online presence has to align with your business strategy, which determines what your organization needs to achieve with its budgeted resources.

Does your usability design have ‘soul’?

Finally, your usability design must have ‘soul’ to succeed. The soul of usability design is in the collective group of human beings responsible for the design. They may be invisible to you behind the ‘browser wall’, but nevertheless they imbue the site with humanity and human qualities.

The usability design for a web site or social media profile has soul if it uses the common lexicon of the marketplace. It has soul if it provides a mechanism for users to connect with the sites’ owners and even interact with them through online conversations. These connections and conversations should not only inform planning for your usability design projects but also help you develop content that will increase sales and deepen relationships with your clients or customers.