Usability guidelines – are they the 'right' answer?

14 Jun

Usability Guidelines

We’re often asked about how to get a website ‘right’, or what is the ‘right’ way to display a product page for example. Our clients want to know what the best practice is, what guidelines and standards to conform to, what other sites are doing and so on. Understandably, everyone is very anxious about getting it right, but looking good for investors or designers is not the same as looking good in the eyes of an end user or customer.

In our opinion, guidelines and best practices can be useful to help make quick decisions during design but ultimately a guideline or statement of best practice is only a generic principle that worked for someone else at some time in the past. It may not be right for your users, on your website, at this moment in time.

Most of us are worried about getting it wrong. Ultimately though, getting it right is about what works for your website users. The only way to really get it right is to test the site with real users to understand what works and what does not. Getting it right for your users is far more important than adhering to a guideline.

Do you test your site with users or rely on guidelines instead?

Related service: Usability Testing



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Damian Rees

About Damian Rees

Damian has worked as a usability and user experience consultant for over 13 years. He has worked in senior roles within companies like the BBC and National Air Traffic Services where he has researched and designed for users in a variety of different contexts including web applications, voice recognition, and air traffic control interfaces. Follow Damian on twitter @damianrees

  • Marta Eleniak

    Usability guidelines, in my opinion as a seasoned web pro, are invaluable to give a head start to a design team. Otherwise you can be fixing basic usability problems thrown up by user testing before users can achieve even the basics using a site. Very inefficient for getting a site live. Guidelines also set up the important path toward consistency which builds towards a positive user experience – the minutiae of seemingly insignificant detail made up by individuals as they go along, only to look like a car crash at the end. N.b. we are inconsistent in places but those inconsistencies are for strategic SEO reasons. Once a site has been planned out using best practice principles it still needs user testing as no guidelines can account for the nuances of actual usage from users with various competencies. Mostly because as web professionals it is impossible for us to forget what we know and approach the design from a less web experienced mindset or one with different points of reference.

  • Damian

    Thanks for your comment Marta. It is disappointing that modern web design requires you to make a choice between SEO or Usability, but I think thats a topic for another article.

    As you suggest, the best approach is to use guidelines to avoid common pitfalls and then conduct usability tests. However, guidelines alone are not enough.