Whenever I’m asked what usability is, I get tongue tied. “It’s about humans and computers,” I may say, but they’ll picture robots and talking cars. “I help make web sites that work,” is closer, but vague because technically, if it’s on the Internet, it’s working.
Then I’ll hear myself try to make it clearer by bringing up the “abilities”, such as credibility, understandability, accessibility and findability. Of them, the most nods vote for understandability. It’s in our nature that we all want to be understood. We each want that something that fits us just right. We all want….
A Website Usability Fairy Tale
Once upon a time, a long time ago, but shortly after animation and Adobe Flash were born, there lived in the deepest, lushest jungle of suburban homes outside the quaint town of Webby Hollow a lovely family called the Allaboutus’s. Everyone in town knew the Allaboutus family, because it was, as you know, all about them.
Mr. Allaboutus, at barely 6 feet tall, with a beer belly and constant supply of cherry licorice, ran a website called, (it should come as no surprise), BeerLicorice .com. He spent hours every day in Twitter tweeting about his newest chocolate beer or blueberry flavored licorice because his social media marketing consultant told him Twitter is the way to go. For Mr. Allaboutus, Twitter was perfect because every tweet was all about him or his products.
Meanwhile, the spunky, witty, and utterly delightful, Mrs. Allaboutus, enjoyed remarkable success talking about her life and times as a young rebel and exotic dancer (before she met Mr. Allaboutus, at which time it was all about him, you see.) Her blog was so popular that Blogher asked her to write for them and she was featured on the late morning TV show, The View.
It came as no surprise, when Barbara Walters asked Mrs. Allaboutus what she attributed her wild website success to be, that the dear lady flipped her hair, smiled wide towards the camera and exclaimed, “Well, of course it’s a success because the site is all about me!” And the audience clapped and yelled “Bravo!” just before Whoopi gave away free iPods and Elisabeth presented the next segment on costumes for tiny dogs.
Webby Hollow was even more remarkable because, of all the families who lived there; only one had a young son who built websites that superseded every known expectation by its marketers and site visitors. Abby Bill T. Allaboutus had the unfortunate trait of humbleness. His father blamed his own mother Abby, after whom he had named his only son because the name belonged to his family.
The ever so cheerful Mrs. Allaboutus had the entire family tree analyzed for strange character traits, only to learn that a concern for others and honesty was traced back to a distant relative whose name also began with the letter “T”. How horrid she secretly thought, that her own self indulgent father, Bill Thomas, would have a generous and authentic grandson who carried his name, Bill T.
Now, Abby Bill T. Allaboutus spent hours and hours improving his websites. However, he did so in the privacy of his own room when he had the Internet all to himself, for he had learned early on that nobody in the Allaboutus family dares to check their Google Analytics data to see how their websites are doing. By the tender age of 13, the young rebel Allaboutus had secretly mastered customer satisfaction, user generated content and the world’s safest, most private contact forms anyone had ever known.
On one particularly sunny day, you know, the kind you’ll find in a story like the one about the Three Bears, the Allaboutus family went to the biggest park in town for a picnic because Mr. and Mrs. Allaboutus wanted to accidently drop their business cards near the swing set.
While they were gone, for reasons we may never know, a tall, brunette, gorgeous, younger than her age looking, website usability specialist sneaked into the Allaboutus cottage, looking for a usable website to purchase leather fringe boots from.
This was simple because the Allaboutus family didn’t lock their doors because they wanted people to come inside to learn all about them. Targeted research was something folks did in Canada. Or perhaps Mountain View, California.
Our usability specialist heroine, named Goldyberg, first located Mr. Allaboutus’s PC in his den. It was “sleeping”, so she moved the mouse and found herself staring at a fiasco of a website.
No less than 10 banners were above the page fold, plus there was a video of Mr. Allaboutus holding up his new chocolate beer and patting his round belly with pride. His new blueberry licorice sounded pretty good but in nearly 20 minutes of browsing, she never did find the call to action prompt that indicated how to buy some.
“This website sucks,” said Goldyberg, as she roamed around looking for another computer to try.
Out in the greenhouse, of all places, she discovered the handy tablet computer that she assumed must be owned by Mrs. Allaboutus. As Goldyberg breathed in the scent of fresh flowers and munched on a piece of basil leaf, she opened the lid and the machine sprung to life by instantly loading the famous blog about Mrs. Allaboutus and her long ago naughty and clever escapades.
“This website really sucks!” muttered Goldyberg, as she put her hair up in a ponytail because it was getting hot inside the greenhouse. She needed a drink of water so she turned and went in search of the kitchen.
After she drank water from a coffee mug that had pictures of Mr. Allaboutus and Mickey Mouse on it, Goldyberg stepped lightly upstairs and found an uncluttered room with a nice laptop, iPod and dual monitor PC with headphones.
There were web design books and search engine marketing manuals and Google AdWords $100 discount cards scattered about. Posters of Jakob Nielsen, Steve Krug, Shari Thurow and others were on his walls (where he got these, who the heck knows?). Goldyberg sat down and just stared in the silence at the laptop for a few moments before lifting the lid.
Clearly, Abby Bill T. knew his abilities. Strung along the top of his Chrome browser were six of his websites on various topics and in several different niches, from ecommerce to information to travel and cars.
As Goldyberg clicked into each one, she clicked off in her head all the usability elements she loved. There were:
- Browser compatibility
And incredibly, every link contained optimized keywords and the “scent of information”. Behind every picture was an alt attribute. Each page was devoid of loud banners and blinking things or pages of endless text. There were links to customer service and each task was clearly visible and easy to follow. Every attempt at meeting user experience design standards was met.
Stunned, Goldyberg whispered to herself, “This website has perfect usability!”
To make a long story short, Goldyberg carefully crept back down the stairs and out of the unlocked Allaboutus cottage in Webby Hollow before the family returned home. However, she looked up Abbey Bill T. online and they’ve since become the best of friends.
There are rumors that sometimes, in the quiet of the night, when Mr. and Mrs. Allaboutus are done tweaking their websites and gone off to bed, that Goldyberg climbs up the big oak tree by Abbey Bill T.’s bedroom window and crawls inside. It is said that together, they have made the world’s most successful websites for search engines and humans.
It’s because they cared so much for websites that are usable by all of us that you and I can order our favorite things today. Much like Goldyberg did, when she ordered her leather fringe boots from one of Abbey Bill T’s website that one sunny day, many many years ago.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.