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(March 10, 2005) - Usability means ease of use. Before making a Website public, the best way to evaluate its usability is to have naive users try it out. This is the equivalent of market-testing a new product and adjusting the product (or the way it is marketed) to help it succeed financially.

Here are two aspects to consider when evaluating a Website's usability:

Clarity of Purpose/Meaning

There is a saying that sums up the impact of usability: The clarity of purpose, or meaning of your communication is reflected in the results that you get.

A great Website is one that has been fine tuned at several levels through repeated testing and adjusting to ensure that the combination of text, graphics and links creates the intended message. As one Website user put it, "The more well-organized a page is, the more faith I will have in the info."

Shoddy construction and bad graphics are easy to generate; precision and clarity are difficult. The hardest design concept to master is "less is more." It is the responsibility of the Website provider to prioritize the information presented.

Website users routinely skip over material that they deem to be fluff. This includes introductory/welcome messages. They almost always immediately scan for a HyperLink to the information they are seeking.

Information Design

Information design is the art and science of ensuring that your message is communicated to the user without being a burden. Information design includes laying out the information that the user wants in a way that makes it very easy to get. One way to accomplish this is to minimize the number of mouse clicks that users must execute to get the information they need or want. This type of design is not simple to execute, but when it's done well, it makes the Website "feel" simple to use.

Remember, even though the Web allows the provision of seemingly endless amounts of information, the fundamental usability design principle for a Website is less is more.

John Sumser

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