When you plan and design a Web site, focus on what your intended users want to do with the information on your site, not only on what you want to say. For example, one way to serve your users is to avoid structuring your site like an organigram of your service or division. Identify what users want to obtain from your site and what problems they are likely to solve with the information you offer. Organize the information according to their objectives.
Usability is particularly important for FAO Web sites because of the broad range of needs, skills and constraints of its audience. For example, we cannot assume that the target audience of the FAO Web site has the same level of experience in browsing the Web, searching a database or downloading a document. Neither can we assume their computers and connections fall in a narrow range of types and configurations.
Diversity of languages, cultures, skills and infrastructure is the reason why FAO Web sites should be designed with users in mind right from the start.
The Web Guide provides a number of guidelines and standards that have been developed with the goal of increasing usability of FAO information online.
What is usability?
Usability means making products and systems easier to use, and matching them more closely to user needs and requirements. Usability incorporates many factors: design, functionality, structure, information architecture and more. Usability can be quantitatively measured in terms of efficiency and effectiveness with which users can achieve tasks in a particular environment.
Ten ways to make an FAO Web site more usable
1. Think about the user
It sounds obvious, but designers should remember that people use Web sites in very diverse conditions, and that they are very focussed on their tasks. Obtain as much information about your target users from people who work with them or meet them. Convince management to do preliminary research so that clear user requirements are incorporated in the early planning and design stages.
2. Follow conventions
Conventions (like the FAO emblem linking to the FAO home page or underlined links) save you much work and are solutions for recurrent design problems. See other design conventions in the FAO Web Quality Assurance Checklist.
3. Label things clearly
The words you use for navigation and in links determines whether they are going to be used. Consider labels like promises: when people arrive at the link destination, are you holding the promise stated in the label? Be clear, consistent and honest.
4. Avoid using an organigram as site navigation
If you need to reflect the variety of activities and competencies of a service/division or group on a Web site, think in topic terms. Do not use the names of internal groups as navigation labels, but try to identify the sectors/topic/subject with which they deal with.
5. Avoid lengthy instructions
People do not read on the Web - that is a tenet. Aim for a layout that by grouping, hierarchy and size clarifies the relative importance of items on the interface. People will see the prominent ones. If they cannot use or understand the information in these hot spots, they will (reluctantly) resort to reading.
6. Pay attention to details
Involve a proper interface designer at the main design stage, when key decisions about the layout (and its details like colours, fonts, button size and link style) need to be made. A powerful database can be misused because of a badly designed search form.
7. Make links look clickable and clicked
If you want people to click somewhere, make sure they know it is clickable. One of the most well established Web conventions is that hyperlinks are underlined. If for any reason you are not sticking to this convention, make links look clickable and clicked, i.e. users should see where they have already been to.
8. Make text readable
Most of the time, usable means readable. Make the font size large enough so that it is easily readable. Using the relative length unit "em" in the CSS allows the text to be resizable (users can adjust the size of the text by using browser commands). Place text in shorter paragraphs, surrounded by white space, to make it easily scannable. Readability is also affected by writing style (see the following - Point 9).
9. Write for the Web
This is so important that it has a section (see 4.3 Writing for the Web) of its own in the Web Guide.
10. Test, test, test and test
The only way to ensure your site is usable is to test it with real users and incorporate their findings into the site. For major systems, organize regular or periodical usability testing, but other testing can be done at a lower cost and on a systematic basis. For example, take advantage of field missions to conduct short observations and interviews with people interested in your site. Take advantage of visiting experts, delegates at HQ meetings and new staff and volunteers. Prepare a discussion guide for your colleagues to use on your behalf.