Be careful what you wish for – A story of websites, usability and kettles.

Before we get started on this wild ride, let’s get a few things clear. Usability is important. Dr. Wiki P. Edia, a world renowned expert on the subject, defines usability as “the ease of use and learnability of a human-made object. The object of use can be a software application, website, book, tool, machine, process, or anything a human interacts with”. As you can see, usability is not a term reserved for websites, but is obviously important for a website to be successful (and not end up like this) as I will demonstrate with the following post about kettles, that’s right…kettles.

So, lets get started. Consider the following Breville 1.6L glass kettle. It may not be the coolest kettle on the market, but I would argue that it’s by far the most useable one I’ve seen in the extensive research I’ve done on the subject in the last 5 minutes on Google. It has the following features:

  • Clean, simple design
  • A single, obvious on/off switch
  • A unobtrusive light indicating current on/off status
  • A clear body, so you can easily see how full it is, and if it needs cleaning
  • An unobstructed lid area, so you can easily fill it with water, or fit a brush/sponge through to clean it
  • A standard, ergonomic handle to hold when pouring

We can easily draw comparisons to common features of highly useable website from this wonderful kettle:

  • Clean, simple design
  • Obvious call to actions
  • Unobtrusive user feedback
  • Clear navigation, users should’t have to work to view their content
  • Unobstructed viewing of content. Useable sites do not ask visitors to like them on Facebook to view an article.
  • Standard navigation and call to actions. New users will be able to use a website much more easily if it’s similar to something they’ve seen before

Thankfully, Breville realised they had a great product on their hands and saw fit to release it as is. But let’s briefly go back in time and step into the shoes of the Breville CEO and see what would happen if we apply some of the requests that we often receive on web projects.

“Make my logo bigger!”

These four words are the bane of every designers existance, yet they inevitably pop up at some point in far too many projects. In this case, the size of the logo has obfuscated a key feature of the kettle – the on/off indicator, but that’s fine – visitors will remember the brand better that way, right?

“Can you make it pop more? My dogs favourite colours are green and purple.”

Designers make decisions based on years of experience and education, yet they too often become the hand puppets of far superior designers including ‘my cousin who did art in year 10’ and ‘my friend who knows how to use MS Paint’.

“Make it bigger, faster, stronger”

Just because you’re using a dual screen 27” iMac, doesn’t mean your users are. When designing a website, different devices, screen sizes, browsers must all be taken into account from the start of a project, not as an afterthought.

“Add more features”

Navigation and features should be simple enough to use that a person who has never used the website can easily figure out how to do so. Having extra shortcuts and features is great, but for consumer facing websites, it should never be at the expense of new users.

“Socialize it”

Social media is great, but it is not suitable for every website. Consider wether your market is likely to interact with your company (and wether your company has the resources to respond) on social media before cluttering your website with unnecessary like buttons.

In conclusion

It’s been a long, exciting journey, but we finally have a fully functional, feature rich, interactive, socialised kettle that is far superior in technology to the original. Despite all this, I think I know which one i’ll be going with next time I’m in the market for a new kettle, and I suspect most of your website users out there would agree with my preference!

Up next: Dear Modern Technology

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