No matter how good you think your Web site's design is, accept that it can always be better. Web design is no place for the content. You must forever resign yourself to the fact that your site's usability is not going to be perfect. This is not to say your site isn't good. In fact it may be great -- but it could be better.
Or so says Jakob Nielsen
in his recent article, Extreme Usability: How to Make an Already-Great Design Even Better
.Once you've made all the obvious and popular fixes to your site and made it fabulous, how can you maintain its luster and make it better? Enter due diligence. Nielsen offers four ideas that can help make a good user experience
* Identify where your design exceeds expectations and apply that success even more broadly.
* Look at things that are close to going wrong and ensure that they never will.
* Go beyond user experience for individual customers to consider enterprise usability.
* Discover unmet needs.
Identify Why a Design Works Well
Often there is a time in every designer's career when things are going well. Resting on your laurels is the comfortable thing to do, but the right thing to do is to study it
Those sections where users immediately click the right thing, have no difficulties, and basically like your site. Why was the correct link the most apparent? Why was it so easy for those users to accomplish their goal? And what did they particularly like about the design?
By understanding what Nielsen calls Lucky Users
-- those who are "outliers in terms of uncommonly successful, high-performance use of your design" -- are doing so well, you may be able to encourage other users to follow suit.
Learn From Users What to Improve
You can also learn from your users that struggle to find what they need to improve their user experience. Find out what miscues have caused them to hesitate or go awry. At such a high level of design analysis (ahem. for those that fall with in the 1% of "websites that don't suck"), Nielsen encourages designers to conduct eyetracking studies of your content, which can identify regressions or those instances when the eye "moves back instead of forward because the user needs to read something twice". A regression, he cautions, is another symptom of a small problem: the inability to understand the text, which often results big words, poor sentence structure or a weak argument.
Focus on Enterprise Usability
Nielsen also touches on the topic of enterprise
usability. We can get rather bogged down focusing on the needs of an individual. But if we turned our attention to meet the needs of an organization, company or industry, it can illuminate specific concerns. While often necessary in Business to Business marketing companies, employing enterprise usability is worth considering even if you're designing for a niche audience or a wide demographic of users.
Keep Exceeding Expectations
Finally, Nielsen encourages webs designers and usability experts to keep exceeding expectations. Your site might be top dog now, but in a year's time it will be replaced by something new. Web sites must continually reinvent themselves, while staying true to their brand identity.
The evolution of a web site should retain it users while exploring ways to gain new ones. Because providing a great user experience is key to any design, there isn't room to ignore usability research.