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Beginner Usability book on a bookshelf

Excerpt – Beginner Usability: A Novice’s Guide to Zombie Proofing Your Website

Useful Zombies

You can’t put the kibosh on zombies as a web developer without knowing some code, but you also have to understand how a user will approach your website. We’re so used to looking at websites that we often take for granted the little things that make them easy to navigate and smack zombies around with. And, just like your mom, you have a blind spot for your work. You know what you intended, and so you know whether a link or menu or piece of content is significant or ignorable. You know how to get from page A of the website to page B to page Q without even thinking about it. Unfortunately for us (and fortunately for you), no one shares your brain. No one thinks exactly the same way as you do—unless you’re part of a zombie horde.

To make your site intuitive and easy for a user to navigate, there’s a concept called “usability.” There’s no exact scoring system for how usable or unusable a site is, but there is a continuum, with usable-ness and happy content users at one end, and unusable-ness and apocalypticly depressed users at the other.

Because of that blind spot, even when you aim for a usable website, you can’t always be sure you have one, until you test it with other users. Usability testing is, itself, a vast and deep subject. This book covers the basics, the things that live in the gap between code and design—the things zombies hope you won’t learn. It’s about how a website works and whether a user understands how to navigate the site you’ve built. But there’s also an amount of usability that should happen on the back end, where you are building a site and maintaining it. Better maintenance and better usability both lead to less crying and fewer zombies, so it’s a win for everyone. Plus you’ll have a site that people besides you and your mom love.

Apocalyptic Expectations

Users have a set of expectations for your site. Most of these are unconscious. Years of brainwashing by the sites they’ve used before have created patterns for how they expect your site to work. For instance, they expect that when they click/tap on a link or click/tap a button, something will happen. Often doing that will take them to a new page or set a process or animation in motion. If nothing seems to happen when they click on a link or button, they’ll think the site is broken, slow, or improperly built.

None of this looks good for you, even when you’re compared to a zombie site that has inferior graphics, poorer writing, and a zombie horde shuffling in the background. If the site works as they expect, they are less likely to drop you and run for your competitor. It’s important then to know these expectations (when possible) so you can keep users coming back to your site and killing zombies left and right.

Before we move on, I want to speak to all the human resistance rebels out there. You hate rules, and if this book is just going to lay out rules, you’ll forget it and hitchhike with the next dieselpunk vehicle that thunders down the apocalyptic highway. I’m actually all for you breaking rules the way you break zombie heads—left, right, and center—but it’s best to know when you’re breaking a rule and to do it intentionally.

These “rules” often make it easier for users to navigate your site. Every rule you break adds a bit of cognitive dissonance. Users have to think a little more and work a little harder to do what they want to do or find what they want to find on your site. Since the goal of websites is generally to help users complete the task they want to complete (and, of course, kill zombies), the faster we help them do that, the better. But again, a site that does everything you expect is boring and has no life or mystery. Thus, you should know the rules so that you break them only when you intend to, only when the cognitive dissonance is worth the benefit of doing things differently. Let users slide through the rest of the site with ease so they can focus on the things that make your site new, different, and interesting.

Want to keep reading? Pick up Beginner Usability: A Novice’s Guide to Zombie Proofing Your Website