Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Website Usability - Design over Function–Which Matters Most?

Etienne Meneau DecanterThis is a decanter.  It was designed, by Etienne Meneau to hold wine, and yet it is, in its own right a piece of art.  If you owned it would you really want to use it for the function it was designed for?  Or would you choose something more straight forward to pour your wine out of, and treat this, as it really is, as a piece of art, letting design win hands down over function, even though you may have bought it as a decanter in the first place.

This brings me to my main topic and that of website usability. There is no fine line between what works on a website where usability and functionality are concerned.  The template is set, we know what gets a potential customer to convert, how they scan a website, and the priority is without question website usability.  And yet I come across, time and time again, websites that have been professionally designed by developers charging large amounts of money – in some cases seriously large amounts of money – that do not work functionality wise.

These websites in many cases look very pretty.  You land on them and think, oh yes, this is a good place to be, where I may find what I am look for.  However, if it takes you more than a couple of seconds to find the path to what you’re searching for you will leave.

The fault is clearly with the developer who needs to ensure, even with a demanding client who may know what they like, but will probably not know what works, that basic functionality is embedded within the site.

I come across websites with flaws such as hard coded items that should not be, making it impossible for them to be changed.  Websites that do not allow even home page optimisation and where every tiny change costs a fortune.

I’m well aware that developers perceive client changes as permission to print money.  If they’re tweaks to a well designed website that’s fair enough.  If they’re changes to things that are wrong to start with they shouldn’t be charged for.

I work with two developers who I trust implicitly, who have never let me down, who would not dream of designing something that didn’t work and if there was the smallest fault they would put them right at no charge.  How is a wannabe e-tailor, with little experience, to know what they really need?  Well they can ask me for a start.

Back to the decanter.  I’d like two.  One for its artistic value, and the simple, wine-pouring variety that wouldn’t give me sleepless nights over using, let alone washing.  And I want my websites to work, simply, clearly and obviously, and to follow the format that’s proved so successful for others and that, quite frankly, isn’t going to change any time soon.
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