Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Usability key to online success

ACS President Anthony Wong's column in the Austrlaian newspaper today ends with the line: "ACS fellow and digital media expert Tom Worthington said usability was a key issue for using mobile commerce." (from: "Online key to business success", 3 May 2011). Usability can be improved with web standards and guidelines.

My point was that mobile devices have much more limited interfaces than desktop computers and are used on the run, so the interface needs to be much easier than with a desktop computer. Even the latest iPhones and Google Androids, have screens only about the size of a credit card. It is unlikely that phone screens will get any larger, as they will then not fit in a pocket.

Fitting content on a pocket size screen requires difficult decisions about what is important and what is not. Don't waste your most important screen real-estate with a media release about the CEO's latest cocktail party, if this punishes information about the product the customer wants off the bottom of the screen.

Mobile devices are used in environments less suited to deep thought than a sit down computer in an office. The mobile device may be pulled out on the run and so the user may have only a few seconds of uninterrupted time. This is not the time to give the customer pages of complex options. If they want to pay a bill, then let them pay the bill, without having to go through lots of check-boxes.

One easy way to start tidying up your web site for mobile use is by using the standards and guidelines developed for mobile devices and accessibly for the disabled. The first step is to ensure the web pages meet web standards, so they will work on a range of devices. Many businesses make the mistake of coding their mobile pages just for one device (such as the iPhone ) and will have a shock when these do not work so well on the new Android phones (which are now outselling the iPhone). If your business has an unlimited budget, then you can afford a team of people to customise the web interface to every device, if not, then stick to the standards.

The next step is to check for access for the disabled. You may not have many completely blind customers, but we are all getting older and having more difficulty with tiny text and tiny buttons. Meeting accessibility requirements for the disabled helps make the web site simpler for everyone. By making the interface easier for someone with limited eyesight, cognitive ability and hand movement, it also helps someone who is trying to use a mobile interface on the metro.

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