5 Usability Principles for Web Designers

During my freelance writing career, I have had the opportunity to design several websites for businesses. Although applications and graphics are important, usability is a key feature that cannot be ignored. The final product must be user friendly and create a positive experience.

1. Avoid Custom Fonts and Wrong Sizing

I have received multiple requests for custom fonts that would have dramatically decreased usability. One business wanted a font created from stick figures while another wanted a font that substituted fruits and vegetables for half of the alphabet. Although the use of custom fonts in some parts of a website can make the page more interesting, I strongly discourage using them throughout an entire site. Users prefer a clear and bold font that does not take time to decipher. In addition, the font size must be at least 11 or 12 points. Including the ability to adjust font size directly on the page can also help the user.

2. Use CSS Sprites

One of the biggest complaints users voice is slow loading pages. CSS sprites allow a web designer to increase speed without limiting the number of graphics. By storing multiple images in one file, CSS sprites allow for faster downloading with one request.


3. Include a Site Search

Nothing is more irritating than wasting time on a website that does not provide a site search. Although smaller websites that do not have a large amount of information can avoid this feature, most websites benefit from having a site search option. Usability increases if it is available on every page and is easy to locate.

4. Use White Space

I encourage businesses to take advantage of white space on a website. Often, companies are tempted to cram an immense amount of information on one page. Users need breathing room, so a balance of information and white space is crucial. Leaving an adequate amount of space between paragraphs and graphics gives users the ability to rest their eyes.

5. Consider Consistency and Eye-tracking

A consistent design and similar concepts throughout a website can increase usability. This means I always make the headings, links, buttons, lists and other parts of the site match because it avoids confusion. I also consider eye-tracking studies while designing a website. Most users quickly scan a page and move on, so the website must have several elements to grab their attention. Bold headings, subheadings and lists increase usability.