What does good website usability mean? Well, for me it’s a combination of the following:

  • Easy to read and attractively laid out
  • The pathways to what you might want are clear
  • The site suits those who search and those who like to look around
  • You’re allowed to find what you want
  • The flow for specific tasks makes sense
  • Error handling is elegant and friendly (and errors are designed-out where possible)
  • Site obeys important web conventions

Favourite sites

For its handling of Web 2.0, I’d say the University of Warwick.  The main site is slightly hard to navigate, but what Warwick has done with user-generated content and audio/video is nothing short of miraculous.  What stands out for me is that the elements are clearly integrated into Warwick’s internal ways of working: their podcasts, for example, are podcasts of keynote lectures.  In other words, the extra content is actually valuable to its users.

For pleasant, minimalist travel booking, it has to be Easyjet.  Booking services often overcomplicate the transaction, but Easyjet keeps things pretty streamlined.

For the ability to consume vast amounts of time, Youtube has no peer.  I wouldn’t say it’s easy to use, exactly: anyone looking for a home-made video of Daleks singing a version of The Llama Song will have to search a few times to get what they want, but it’s marvellous.  

I feel, too, that the copyright lawyers are missing the point hugely here.  People create buzz through linking here; favourites get linked and traded and trafficked here, creating whole new audiences who would never otherwise come across them.  And in the mash-ups, in particular, you get a sense of the audience getting into the driver’s seat.  It’s not possible to foist your product on a distant, appreciative mass; now they will come up and argue with you about it.   It should change advertisers’ and film-makers’ thoughts about audience.

Hall of Shame

Until very recently, National Rail Enquiries made it very hard to change your mind and search for a different route.  Bless them, they’ve finally changed it.  A bit of colour to enliven all the blue wouldn’t go amiss.

Similarly, HSBC Internet Banking, has a zealous overcommitment to its corporate colours, making life very difficult for someone to pick out the right path through all the red and grey options.   A narrow colour palette makes good information design difficult, especially when one of the corporate colours is grey.

ADC Theatre  Cambridge, for their inability to tell you that a show is sold out.  I’ve noticed that sites for the arts are often difficult to use.  In this one, it’s desperately unclear on many of the pages where to click to book; and one you get through the booking process, if the show is sold out, you eventually get a little mention of there not being enough seats in the room.  I feel they’re trying to avoid telling me on the listings page, but why?

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