When building a business Web site, frustration is a common experience among business owners trying to judge the quality of Web site design. Everyone wants to implement the best looking Web site, but opinions of what constitutes a great site vary. Fortunately, good Web sites aren't based on opinion. They are based on evidence.
Although the look and feel of many well-conceived Web sites may vary greatly, good Web sites tend to share a number of common characteristics. These characteristics provide the basis of the "Research-Based Web Design and Usability Guidelines" developed by the federal government as part of its usability.gov initiative. (Download the guidelines here.)
The federal guidelines provide marketers with a good overview and deep understanding of the wide range of Web design issues they may encounter while managing a Web site. The guidelines provide marketers with standards that can be used to judge Web designs. Marketers can request that their Web designers and developers follow relevant portions of the guidelines and can use them to set priorities.
While the number of guidelines can seem daunting, usability.gov provides a tool developed in cooperation with AARP that allows site visitors to sort guidelines based on their overall relevance and supporting evidence. So it is possible to identify and focus on the most important guidelines for success.
For example, the four guidelines that score highest in both relevance and supporting evidence include:
- Use an iterative design approach— Designs should be tested with customers before they are implemented. Use paper prototypes to test the design and make revisions to the design based on your findings.
- Provide useful content—While it seems like common sense, it's not uncommon for sites to contain a company's sales pitch instead of the information that site visitors want. Studies have reported that content is more important than navigation, visual design, functionality and interactivity.
- Ensure visual consistency—Design creativity must be balanced with consistency. Studies show that tasks performed on more consistent interfaces resulted in reduced task completion times, fewer errors, higher user satisfaction and a shorter learning time.
- Use dark text on plain, high-contrast backgrounds— Use white text on dark backgrounds sparingly. People read black text on a white background up to 32 percent faster.