Is Your Web Site User-Friendly or User-Hostile?

My dad was trying to reserve a book online the other day. He hit submit on the county library web site and kept getting an error message. Then he did it again, same problem. Finally he looked more closely and saw that underneath the submit button were two check boxes that said, “Select library set”.

After some more puzzling, he realized that the library system is divided into two parts, one with about 5 branches, and then 33 other branches in the other set (no idea why). If you want a book, you have to specify which group to order it from!

Now, dad is an experienced software systems guru (and the former CEO of a small software firm). It took him 15 minutes to figure out how to reserve a book. What chance does an ordinary, non-technical person have with a system like that?

And why should a library patron know (or care) which branch the book comes from, or that there are two sets of libraries? If I want a book, I just want the book (as quickly as possible).

If there’s some reason for the division, why not say so, and in a way that makes sense to the user?

To paraphrase a recent article in MacWorld (June 9, 2009), bad sites are produced by people who know how to write code to make a computer do something, but have no idea how regular people behave and how those people expect to interact with that site.

As MacWorld said, “It really doesn’t matter if it’s a microprocessor or a system of tiny pulleys hauled by gnomes that’s inside that shiny glass and plastic product. It just needs to work the way they want it to.”

Look at your site through your customers’ eyes. Is it intuitive? Do visitors have to sit through a Flash presentation in order to get to the “meat” of your site? Is it easy to find your products and services?

Does your blog require a login in order to comment? Are you helping your customers use your products? Or frustrating them?

What about navigation? Do visitors visit one or two pages and then leave?

A site, or a product, that’s easy to use will encourage more people to use it (and interact with it). If it’s too hard, people will go elsewhere to find what they want.