Website Usability – Expert Interview with Joel Flom
Joel Flom is a world reknowned expert in usability and user centred design, and we were fortunate enough to interview him to find out more. Joel partners with Bluewire Media through his Brisbane usability consultancy – Elavision.
In this interview Joel Flom shares:
- what usability is & what’s involved
- how customers benefit
- how businesses benefit
- his #1 usability secret
- what you can do yourself to improve usability
- case study of a large super company
Can you give us an overview of what usability is and what’s involved?
The best way to look at usability is to look at it from a customer’s perspective and even better, from your perspective. We’ve all been there before – going through a website where it’s very difficult to use, you’re trying to add another item to the cart, you’re trying to find a new piece of information that you can’t find and you can’t even find the contact button to get the answers that you’re looking for. So what usability tries to do is to help reduce the friction that your customers have with your website and with your business. There are two main areas of usability and two main exercises that I tend to recommend to clients:
Where you go out and watch real customers use your website. The benefit to that is you not only see the roadblocks and the friction that they experience but you also uncover quite a few ideas that you haven’t thought about yourself. The second area is to research the way you serve your customers using the web and think about the way in which you are answering enquiries, the way that you’re delivering products and delivering services.
The second portion, once you’ve brought those insights back to the design team, you’ve put them into place and you’ve got some great ideas thought out, is to do user testing. That’s actually getting real users in front of the design before they enter the production phase or before you begin building your website. That can be done on paper, it can be done using screens on a computer or it can even be done using index cards. You would call that a card sort exercise, where you have customers actually organise your content in categories that make sense to them.
How do customers benefit?
Ultimately it allows you to deliver what benefits your customers, it helps them find the things that they’re looking for, get the answers they need and it gets things done as quickly as possible.
How do businesses benefit from user research and user testing?
User research and user testing allows you as a business to first and foremost look at your website and your business through your customers eyes. It also allows you to see their points of pain and figure out better ways of serving them, better ways of organising the information and better ways of delivering your message to the customer.
If you had one secret to give away about usability, what would it be?
The one thing that I talk to people about is that user experience doesn’t have to be expensive and it doesn’t have to take weeks. You can do user research with up to a dozen customers and get real valuable insights. You don’t have to do it in a usability lab. You can do it in front of a laptop at a cafe and also you don’t have to do it using expensive technology; by using paper, using screens on a computer and just allowing the customer to show you how your website’s working and how it’s not. The idea is not to fine tune your designs. You’re trying to validate your ideas.
What are some things businesses can do themselves to improve the usability of their websites?
Something you can do on your own to get started to get some really good information is to invite your customers in. I suggest inviting them in for a cup of coffee and asking them to sit down with you and observe them using your website. If you don’t have access to your customers or you don’t feel quite as confident to bring your customers in at that stage, ask employees, friends and family. Literally anyone to look at your website will give you the insight that you’re looking for and I always say, any testing is better than none.
Can you provide some real life examples of companies or clients who have followed your advice or programs?
Recently with one of Australia’s largest superannuation providers we did some card sorting, testing and some user observations. One of the interesting findings was that when a customer would arrive on the home page, although the home page was rich with information, it had a lot of options and a lot of links and so forth. The user was unable to get started because of the volume of information. So by looking at this repeatedly over different user tests, we realised that reducing half the content on the home page would actually double the impact and allow the customer to move forward.
Website usability is arguably the most important aspect of designing a website.
Ensuring that people can easily find what they are looking for and understanding why people visit your website are two of the keys to effective web usability.
Usability Brisbane: If you think your business could benefit from better usability, please conatct Bluewire Media on 1300 258 394.