Villing & Company

Why You Should Underestimate Your Website Visitors

People who are frustrated with modern entertainment, politics and other aspects of our culture often complain that those in charge tend to talk down to their audience. It seems like the people responsible for mass communication often underestimate our intelligence. While this may be a legitimate criticism in some areas, I think we often make the mistake of generalizing that idea in a way that does a disservice to website usability.

When it comes to usability, you should underestimate your website visitors.

That may seem cynical or elitist, but please hear me out. My position is that usability is not analogous to the examples I listed above. The main distinction I'm making is between a site's content and a site's interface. A movie is content. The text and images on your website are content. I'm not suggesting that you dumb down content. However, the interface of your site (i.e. how to get from page-to-page, what to do and where to go) is a different thing altogether.

Users don't likely come to your site to try to figure out its interface. They're not in the mood for a puzzle or challenge. They're not carefully reviewing your site with the intent of cracking the ins and outs of your design. They likely have a single purpose: finding specific content as quickly as possible. For this reason, obscure functionality is very likely to be missed. If you don't make things obvious, few will care enough to find it.

It's easy to overlook the massive gap in familiarity between you and your visitors. Things that seem obvious to you aren't necessarily obvious to your average visitor. Remember that many visitors are seeing your site for the first time. Microsoft made this mistake with Windows 8. Although the core idea of hiding the touch interface off-screen was clean and efficient, the fatal problem was that no one could intuitively figure out how to use it. People simply wanting to get work done found themselves stumbling over simple tasks and having to re-learn ingrained habits. This was a perfect case study in overestimating users. It wasn't that users were dumb, it's that they weren't at all interested in figuring out a new interface, regardless of how much better it may have been in theory.

Saying "it makes sense if you think about it" is often not good enough. In fact, it's a cop-out and actually discourages use of your website. Good usability is often about making sense even when you don't think about it.

Filed Under: web

Villing & Company

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South Bend IN 46601

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