From my perspective, the question of what one thing we can do to make a website better is not a technical one. The more I browse the internet, the more I realize that the biggest issue with a lot of websites is the fact that they don’t let me accomplish the task I am looking to get done. Whether it is the usability or the information architecture or the performance it doesn’t really matter. Over the years, new browser capabilities and the tech stack have made it possible to add more and more complexity to an average website. We see it everywhere: in pages presenting the product, in booking services, in portfolios, and in online shops. We try to delight the user instead of focusing on one simple task: helping the user accomplish what they came to do.
If I were to point out one thing that people can do to make their website better, it is to take a moment to think about the most crucial actions that we want our users to be able to do on a page and make them as easy and accessible as possible.
All visual effects, fancy graphics, beautiful interactions, and tracking scripts should come second.
It is easy to get caught up in the moment and follow the milestones for the project as they are described through tickets in Jira or some other project management software. It is easy to reuse the solutions we are used to. and we can easily copy/paste from previous projects or Stack Overflow. It’s also easy to assume that if something “works on my machine” it will also work for everyone else.
What’s difficult is taking a moment to look past the features that add new value to the project and to focus on parts of the app that may have been overlooked in the process. It is hard to stay on top of things like new features and browser APIs are being released. It is hard to think that someone might not have the same privilege as we do.
Take a moment to rethink what is its true value to the user visiting and to try to look at the page with a fresh eye.
It can be challenging as we get used to the solutions we built. It is hard for us to imagine how people can fail to follow the instructions or clues we left for them on the screen, or imagine how the page might feel to an unsighted user or someone who can only navigate using the keyboard. We forget to test edge cases and anything that goes beyond the “happy path” of the user and instead tend to overlook the fact that we are using a powerful MacBook with a sharp display and internet flowing at a steady pace. We forget that some people are not native English speakers and consider that a word that is self-explicable to us can mean nothing to a user who does not use it in everyday conversation.
I challenge you to take time to look at your website as if it was your first time around.
Use it in the production environment with the stream of third-party resources that might not be there when you are in the development mode. Use it with a very poor internet connection and measure how long it takes to accomplish a simple task like filling a form. Try using it with a different device you might have not used before.
I hope that progressive enhancement doesn’t become yet another buzzword and that you really take a moment to help the user accomplish what they came for. If you are interested in learning more on this topic I can recommend getting familiar with one of Jeremy Keith’s presentations on that topic or the article by Aaron Gustafson that popularized the idea.