Websites have grown increasingly complex and robust over the last decade. We don’t really think about how much today’s web applications have blurred the lines between the desktop and the web but the transition is surprisingly smooth and seamless. Also interesting to note is the idea that the web isn’t just filled with tech-savvy net junkies anymore – Auntie Connie and Grandma are also daily web dwellers complete with Facebook profiles and personal email accounts.
So, websites are more complex and serving a broader audience than ever. What this results in is a need to be more usable than ever. Part of this is making sure that the things that need to be done on your site (i.e. the actions a user needs to take) are as clear as possible. So how are sites doing this today?
I came across this realization not too long ago while updating my LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn itself doesn’t really stand out as being anything exceptional when it comes to providing a usable interface, but the Edit Profile section did offer one little nugget of insight. Like most forms, there’s usually a Save and a Cancel button at the bottom. What made LinkedIn standout was the fact that it emphasized the Save action (by making it a button) and de-emphasized the Cancel action (by making it a simple text link). It’s a small detail, but an important one to me.
With all the options and clickable areas sites like LinkedIn offer, it’s important to provide clarity to the user by telling them exactly what they need to do. If you make them guess a split second longer than they need to, you’ve lost them. The emphasized Save action is not a make or break feature by any means, but it demonstrates thinking in the right direction. Giving one action priority over another tells the user what’s important, what they’re probably looking for, and what they should probably click.
The same idea applies for other visual cues. Headlines and welcome messages are made larger than body text. Why? To show visual priority and hierarchy in a single glance. Within a few seconds, you know what to read first. In fact, even without thinking about it, you will pay attention to things given greater priority.
So the next time you’re laying out a page full of content and designing a lineup of buttons, consider priority. A bit of extra thinking on your part goes a long way to reducing the amount of thinking your users have to do.