Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Creating Web Sites That are Reliable from a Usability Perspective

Comments on: Applying Kaizen to My Various Websites, Trying to practice what I preach...

Good job actually practicing what we recommend others do (kaizen, customer focus...). More management consultants need to do so. I found another thing I think can be improved, this screenshot shows how a floating box (to the left of the screen) blocks the main content:

That covering box moves as you scroll the page so it is always covering part of the content.

[Update: further testing showed this was a temporary glitch - it didn't replicate even on my machine. See comments on the original post for more details. Browsers are not perfect in executing code that is meant to be on the page, sometimes it doesn't quite download everything right, or it misses one action (such as onmouseout) and then behaves oddly...]

One of the big problems I see for web sites development is a failure to understand and test how a wide variety of users will experience a webs site. Often they are designed to look nice for the conditions that the designer has (perhaps huge screen, perhaps low latency, which can mask code issues for users that have high latency internet connections) and that they share with those who approve designs.

It is one thing, for a blog from 1 person to have less than ideal usability for a wide variety of user views. I can completely understand that. Granted I do believe those of us that encourage others to continual improve also need to do that ourselves. What I can't accept is how many web site with huge budgets have very poor coding that results in many users (given the very large user base) have to suffer from bad usability issues.

Those big budget sites should know better than to code in a way that fails to value basic web concepts such as the extremely wide variation in how users will view the web site (screen size, operating system, browser, window size, font size preferences of the user...).

We have an epidemic of bad coding practices that result in failures which then are excused by those responsible as edge cases. Good coding practices would avoid the errors. But instead we code using needlessly complex and error prone ways and then say that we can't deal with the edge cases that only impact a few people. The problem isn't that those few people are requesting some special feature. The problem is the practices used are creating solutions that look nice for some subset of cases but that are not acceptable for other users. Coding with the entire user base in mind from the start would avoid any need to treat those "edge cases" that were only made into edge cases because the coding solutions are not designed for the entire spread of variation in users needs.

The most cost effective and reliable way to deal with this is often to just avoid extra complexity. Having the popup box with additional content can be cool and it can be coded in ways that don't create the issue I see here. But to do that in a way that doesn't create bad usability for some users is complex. Sometimes you can rely on fancy Wordpress themes that have properly dealt with all those complexities. But in my experience, that is very rare. They do ok with a large set of the users but create really bad usability issues for users that don't fit what they considered the normal use case (and created "edge cases" that have bad usability). Or if you are a big budget site you can try to code all the extra complexity yourself. That can be done successfully but I find it fails often. They create fragile systems to deliver and then are overwhelmed at how to deal with all the users that don't fit their expectations for users and they just decide to let those users suffer.

I run across these bad usability practices on big budget website every single week. It isn't some rare poor practice, it is epidemic. It is similar to USA manufacturing practices in 1980: poor practices are so widespread that everyone thinks such poor practices are acceptable. Hopefully this epidemic can be replaced by much better practices fairly soon.

Related: Use Urls – Don’t Use Click x, Then Click y, Then Click z Instructions - Functional Websites are Normally Far Superior to Apps - Bad iTunes Usability and How to Submit a Podcast to iTunes - Usability, Customer Focus and Internet Travel Search - Making Life Difficult for Customers - Designing In Errors

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