A month ago, Oneupweb initiated a Website Usability Study as part of our ongoing research. I spent a few minutes time participating in the online study, and I asked myself “why exactly is usability such an important issue, anyway?” As a techie, it wasn’t hard for me to make the jump from “website” to “Internet” and rediscover one of its fundamental design principles.
Jon Postel, one of the guiding lights in the history of the Internet, prescribed “a general principle of robustness: be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others.” Tim Berners-Lee, designer of the World Wide Web, commented on this principle (even relating it to his religion).
Internet applications that follow the robustness principle present fewer unwelcome surprises to users, and tend to be automatically more user-friendly.
For example, a search engine expects that you type something related to what you are looking for online. If you mistype “barn raising” as “bairn raising” you might be surprised to find results for lullabies! That’s because, for search engines to do the conservative thing is to return exactly what is searched. However, a smarter search engine might guess that Scottish dialect (for “baby”) from an English speaker in the U.S. is unlikely, and will question the user on the search. A search engine can detect a likely misspelling and confirm with the user by asking, “Did you mean barn raising?” The search engine will also provide results for what it thought the user actually wanted to search. Sure enough, the search engine I used to use, and the one I use now, both give these respective results. Usability leads to, well, more use!
This same principle is valuable in practically all social interactions, not the least of which is attracting people to your website (as a gateway to your products and services). Confucius said, “A gentleman is strict with himself and tolerant of others.” Jesus taught both “do to others what you would have them do…” and “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
So keep an eye out for our next white paper to see the results of our study. You want your website to be respectful to users and representative for your company. Don’t hesitate to ask how we can help.