Five More Valuable Lessons From our 2017 Usability Labs


Our last article shared five findings from our experiences in the usability lab in 2017. We wanted to share five more common yet simple insights that emerged as themes for many of the sites and applications we evaluated.

1. Some things should not be “shopping”

Just because your customers or members need to go through the process of evaluating options and choosing between them, it doesn’t mean they’re “shopping”.

Considered purchases, like health insurance coverage, don’t work well when employing traditional e-commerce approaches like a shopping cart. A shopping metaphor implies the option to shop or not, which is not the case for those signing up for a health insurance plan or choosing how they will take their retirement benefits.

For considered purchases, it is critical to provide:

  • educational content to help users understand complex concepts and detailed information about the available options.
  • the ability to compare those options side-by-side.
  • the ability to model any expenses and fees associated with each option.

2. Sometimes it’s best to stick with convention

People expect to find particular interface elements in certain locations. When asked to do something that requires using the search feature of a site, most people will look to the upper right corner of the screen first, because that’s usually where they find the search feature on most of the sites that they visit. If you move that field to the center of the footer, it will take a few seconds for users to find it.

Most people don’t know that the “hamburger” icon will launch the menu when they’re looking at a site on a larger screen because they’re used to seeing the navigation at the top or left side of the page when they’re using their laptop. It may take a few extra seconds for them to (hopefully) get oriented.

You can change things up, but know that it can result in users taking more time to learn how to interact with your site. In some cases, this is fine. But if your users need to complete critical tasks, familiarity will help them do so more efficiently and confidently.

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3. Make sure your design encourages scrolling

It’s true that there is no such thing as the traditional newspaper ‘fold’ online, but there are false bottoms. A design element — like a color block or line — can trick users into thinking that the page has ended and there is no more content for them to consume.

Your users will scroll naturally, but you need to be sure not to inadvertently stop them. Be sure they know there is more content for them to find. Always look at your site on a variety of screen sizes and devices to see if you have any unintentional cues that could be preventing your users from getting all of the details you intended.

4. Use form fields that are recognizable

It’s important that input fields look like input fields to users. Several designs we’ve tested have utilized stylized input fields that are not intuitive. It can take users several crucial seconds to figure out how to enter the information being requested. This becomes even trickier for users on sites and systems that do not show the active cursor in the selected input field.

Make sure your input fields are distinct so users know how and where to enter information; and always display a cursor to show that they have selected a particular field. Finally, make sure users can tab between input fields in an intuitive order. This is a critical accessibility feature for users with low vision or motor skill challenges, and also helps all users effectively navigate through the available input fields.

5. Use language that your user understands

It can be easy to assume that everyone thinks of things in the same way that your company does and understands all of your industry’s terminology. However, that’s not always the case. That assumption can result in isolating your users or driving them away from your site to define the words you are using. For specialized industries, terms and concepts can be complex and uncommon.

Provide easy to understand definitions of the complex terms and jargon used on your application to ensure that your visitors understand what you are trying to communicate.

Want to make sure your site or application is the best it can be? In our usability lab, we’ve helped countless companies improve their interfaces. Contact us and let’s talk about how a usability study can improve your interface.

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