Usability Guidelines to Consider When Designing Interfaces

These are a few usability guidelines (from an article on Smashing Magazine) that I thought were very relevant to projects that I’m doing at the moment.

Form Labels Work Best Above the Field

Form Labels

A study by UX Matters found that the ideal position for labels in forms is above the fields. On many forms, labels are put to the left of the fields, creating a two-column layout; while this looks good, it’s not the easiest layout to use. Why is that? Because forms are generally vertically oriented; i.e. users fill the form from top to bottom. Users scan the form downwards as they go along. And following the label to the field below is easier than finding the field to the right of the label.

Users Focus on Faces

People instinctively notice other people right away when they come into view. On Web pages, we tend to focus on people’s faces and eyes, which gives marketers a good technique for attracting attention. But our attraction to people’s faces and eyes is only the beginning; it turns out we actually glance in the direction the person in the image is looking in.

User Focuses on Faces

Eye-tracking heat map of a baby looking directly at us, from the UsableWorld study.

User Focuses on Faces

And now the baby is looking at the content. Notice the increase in people looking at the headline and text.

Here’s an eye-tracking study that demonstrates this. We’re instinctively drawn to faces, but if that face is looking somewhere other than at us, we’ll also look in that direction. Take advantage of this phenomenon by drawing your users’ attention to the most important parts of your page or ad.

Blue is the Best Colour for Links

Google Blue Links

While giving your website a unique design is great, when it comes to usability, doing what everyone else is doing is best. Follow conventions, because when people visit a new website, the first place they look for things are in the places where they found them on most other websites; they tap into their experience to make sense of this new content. This is known as usage patterns. People expect certain things to be the same, such as link colors, the location of the website’s logo, the behavior of tabbed navigation and so on.

Google keeps all links on its websites blue for a reason: the color is familiar to most users, which makes it easy to locate.
What color should your links be? The first consideration is contrast: links have to be dark (or light) enough to contrast with the background color. Secondly, they should stand out from the color of the rest of the text; so, no black links with black text. And finally, research shows (Van Schaik and Ling) that if usability if your priority, sticking to blue for links is best. The browser’s default link color is blue, so people expect it. Choosing a different color is by no means a problem, but it may affect the speed with which users find it.

White Space Improves Comprehension

Netsetter

Most designers know the value of white space, which is the empty space between paragraphs, pictures, buttons and other items on the page. White space de-clutters a page by giving items room to breathe. We can also group items together by decreasing the space between them and increasing the space between them and other items on the page. This is important for showing relationships between items (e.g. showing that this button applies to this set of items) and building a hierarchy of elements on the page.

Notice the big content margin, padding and paragraph spacing on The Netsetter. All that space makes the content easy and comfortable to read.
White space also makes content more readable. A study (Lin, 2004) found that good use of white space between paragraphs and in the left and right margins increases comprehension by almost 20%. Readers find it easier to focus on and process generously spaced content.
In fact, according to Chaperro, Shaikh and Baker, the layout on a Web page (including white space, headers, indentation and figures) may not measurably influence performance but does influence user satisfaction and experience.

Additional Findings

  • The registration link is titled “sign up” (40%) and is placed in the upper-right corner
  • Sign-up forms have simple layouts, to avoid distracting users (61%)
  • The “submit” button is either left-aligned (56%) or centered (26%)
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