In recent years, the concept of design has lost some precedence to the hands of usability. This can be verified by countless conversations I have had with clients in which, while gathering feedback for the visual style of their website, I received responses to the likes of, “I want a professional website that is clean and easy to navigate.”
What many people fail to realize is that design and usability, while very closely related and many times interwoven, are two different concepts. The reason for this confusion is that many times, professional designers tend to integrate the concept of both into a single step labeled “Site Design.” In order to truly understand the concept of usability and design, we must define each model on an individual basis.
What is Usability?
Usability, on a high level, is the term used to describe the ease in which a person can operate a particular tool or object in order to achieve a certain goal. In terms of websites, usability is the ease in which a visitor on your website can navigate to a particular destination or give input and receive meaningful responses based on that input. The main aspects of usability often precede design in the website development process and usually include the creation of a site map and wireframes.
Usability is probably one of the biggest concepts of Web 2.0 that is getting the most hype. So much so that it sometimes overshadows the other vital aspects of a successful Website development project. While it was almost ignored during the .com boom, usability is at the forefront of the Web development scene today.
What is Design?
Design, on the other hand, deals with the visual aesthetics of a Website. Good design is what makes a site visually stimulating and includes color selection, imagery, and other visual elements that work together to serve as eye candy for your visitors. While the concept seems almost superficial, there are many important aspects of design that contribute to a site’s usability and success.
- Color Choice
Color is the first aspect of your Website’s design that a visitor will notice. Certain colors have an emotional connotation and can directly affect a visitor’s experience with your Website. The proper selection and use of color can make your site more usable and more pleasing to the eye.
Varying shapes can be used to group objects on the Website, direct the visitor’s eye to important portions of a page, and express a particular feel. Soft shapes (rounded edges and curves) tend to give a more feminine feel, while sharper edges and shapes give a more masculine feel to a design.
Great imagery is vital to the success of any Website. Imagery includes photographs, illustrations, charts, icons, and any other content that is not textual in nature. A well-chosen library of images can help visitors identify with your company and improve their perceived value of your Website.
- Negative Space
Negative space, simply put, is the space on your Website with nothing on it. Many designers tend to cram as much information as they can into a given space, but this method can make a site look overwhelming. Good use of negative space can give a more relaxing feel to your site and make content easier to locate and understand.
When these elements are considered and well-implemented in conjunction with one another, the user experience improves greatly. One of the most significant benefits of a good design is an increase in the visitor’s perceived value of the Website. A site with a high perceived value is more likely to get return visitors. Visitors will also tend to forgive minor issues with usability and are more willing to give up personal information.
While design has lost some of its importance in the current scheme of the Website development process, the effects of “good design” are still very apparent. If we put more focus into the elements of what makes a good design, we will begin to see a generation of sites that are more usable and more visually appealing.