Usability Concepts Rooted In Everyday Life

Usually when people talk about usability they’re talking about usability on the web. But most people have forgotten (or perhaps never realized) that usability has been a key measurement in tangible objects like books and hand tools for ages. These types of objects have been critical to the advancement of the human race, so much that we don’t even have to teach someone how to ‘use’ a book, only to interpret the words.

Certain usability concepts are ingrained with the way we interact with well-known objects. Whether this is passed down through society, chemically transferred, instinctually inferred, or hardwired into our brains from birth, the fact is we intuitively know how to use some things. So ask yourself – why do I know (or expect) a website to have its navigation running in a line across the top of the page? If you want to contact someone, or learn more about their company, why do we scroll to the page footer?

Because we are used to certain standards and many of these web usability standards have come into being because of their popularity – highly trafficked, visible, established brands found better site activity and metrics though certain design choices. Other sites noticed this success and copied these features, creating web design “trends” rooted in functionality as opposed to fashion. It is through this popularity that we become accustomed to certain digital elements, and learn to expect them. This concept can also be applied to product design, as different versions of any given product are usually just variations on a theme.

So, the next time you’re thinking of adding a new page to your site, or a new module to your homepage, consider that people’s reactions could stem from their experiences outside of the internet realm. Take for example moving objects on a webpage; one can certainly catch someone’s attention – think the fly in your living room, the cell phone in the theatre or the shooting star out of the corner of your eye. Then take it one step further, what about multiple moving objects – a busy highway, a group of marathon runners, a swarm of bees – when there’s more than one, instinct tells us danger, avoid, confusion. Not words we want associated with our websites. Color, shape, spacing, size… the list of web usability concepts influenced by our life experiences is so long, who knows what you could find looking at them from a real life lens.

This is a guest post by Sam Winstanley, who is the editor at Marketing Weekly, a blog that discusses a variety of topics related to internet marketing.