The Importance of Usability

I’ve always been passionately interested in user experience and usability design. My formal job title is Web Director, meaning project manager of large-scale websites. In actuality, I do a lot of design and branding, SEO, fairly junior-level coding (I can do some simple functions, or if we’ve done something similar, I can rework that for a different purpose, but I’d never call myself a senior developer), information architecture, etc.

I form a picture of what the end result should be, how it should function, what users will want from it, what the KPIs are, and perhaps most importantly, how we can make it fun. Then, I start writing documents which I call functionality specs, which are the starting point for how each area will work. The information architecture work involves determination of what areas are most important to the user, and then dividing those into smaller chunks, which forms the wireframe of the site. My background on ecommerce sites stands me well here: customers want to find products quickly and easily. You break products into large chunks, such as “Electronics” or “Home & Garden”, and then into smaller sections from there. You create alternate paths for people who aren’t sure what they want, such as “Gifts for Dad” or “Web Specials”.

Most importantly, you make sure that the really important stuff hits you in the face. My Account. Login/Register. Help/FAQs. Contact Us. Things like that. (EA Store, are you listening?) You make that important stuff accessible from every single page, so the user never has to hunt for it.

You also make the site as accessible as possible. Clean and simple is the mantra, even on very rich/complex sites. If what you create is not clean and simple, you have failed. This applies to code, to graphics, to unneccessary bells and whistles. Accessibility has a lot to do with web standards and validation. Unless this is your art portfolio, never create a site in Flash. Personally, I browse with Firefox, with a NoScript addon to avoid drive-by keylogger installation. If your site is so larded with shinies that I can’t access it without enabling everything, I’ll probably bypass it.

Which leads me to my Warhammer experience. I’ve just spent an hour googling how to find my access key now that headstart is over, since the EA Store and GOA sites are so full of fail. This is not an hour spent in resolving the issue, mind you, it was an hour spent FINDING HOW TO GET AT THE INFORMATION. Ridiculous.

This whole experience has been a very good illustration of a number of sins:

  1. Never, ever code informational and especially account-related sites in Flash. Duh.
  2. EA Store, why bury login and account information so deeply? That is one of the most important things to have on your homepage. Finally discovering where to log in didn’t give me account information, just personalisation information as though I must perhaps want to use your site as a social networking site. I finally found a link to order history beneath a well-buried FAQ section. Sheer stupidity and total fail at usability.
  3. Always have official forums. Yes, you’ll collect a lot of asshats. But people like me will have a place to go, rather than having to wade through fansites where users try to help each other (since no one is available to help us officially).
  4. Talk to your customers, and give them a chance to talk to you. I felt as though EA had a take-the-money-and-run ethos. I have a problem – listen to me, and take care of it. Don’t give me a web form as my only contact area that doesn’t even list the game that I am having problems with.

Well, rant over. Final words?  Hire me, damn it.  There is obviously a need out there for people who know what they’re doing.  :)

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