Make your website intuitive to use

1. Study your user's current knowledge by observing and taking notes on your customer using the website in a natural setting.

Current knowledge is the existing knowledge that users have from previous experiences. Users may compile their current knowledge from other similar websites, products, or experiences. For example, if a user has never shopped online, but has made offline purchases, their understanding of shopping based on offline purchases is the current knowledge they have. The user’s offline shopping experience will inform their expectation of the online shopping experience.

2. Conduct over-the-shoulder usability testing by having people perform a set of tasks and ask them to comment their thought process out loud, to determine your user's target knowledge.

Target knowledge is the information that your user needs to use your website or application. For example, for making an online purchase on Amazon, your user’s target knowledge could include both using a mouse and navigating Amazon’s check-out interface. This type of usability testing can be done remotely.

3. Build an interface that minimizes the knowledge gap between your user's current knowledge and target knowledge.

Reduce the knowledge gap between what users know before coming to your website, and what they must know to use it properly, with an easy-to-use interface. This helps make your website feel intuitive. For example, Google search has eliminated its knowledge gap. The current knowledge point and the target knowledge point are identical, so it is completely intuitive to users.

4. Add instructions, tips, and microcopy to train users in using your website and reduce the knowledge gap.

In a more complex interface, sometimes you can’t help having a gap between the current knowledge point and target knowledge point of your users. Use design elements that are easy to spot and follow, so that the learning process feels natural to the user. For example, Wufoo provides easy to understand instructions when you log in and begin your first form.

5. Match your website to your user's conceptual model.

For example, if your users have shopped online before, you can mirror the experiences of shopping on other websites to capitalize on your user’s conceptual model. For example, early ebook reader devices used existing conceptual models of the experience of reading a book to make them intuitive to users. If most of your users have never used the type of website or online service you have, you need to determine what their closest experience to using your site is and match it.

6. Use card sorting to structure your content for easy navigation and search.

Card sorting is a reliable and inexpensive method to find patterns in user expectations, regarding content or functionality. For example, you can use card sorting to determine which content goes under which menu item and to choose the labels for menu items. Label your menu items clearly, using trigger words, so that your users know what is behind the link. For example, Amazon has made search the centerpiece of their website, for easy navigation and search of their huge inventory.

7. Use typical conventions that your user will recognize for website design.

Typical navigation conventions for website design include: A click on the logo navigates back to the home page. The last link in a horizontal navigation menu is Contact, with contact information also found in the footer. Important elements remain in the same location throughout the site. Visible scroll bar. Typical conventions for website design include: Links are easily distinguishable from text. Left aligned text. Descriptive help messages and notifications. Plain language terms throughout the interface – for example, Contact instead of Communications, to improve understanding.

8. Apply Lean Design methodology when redesigning your website.

This reduces the time it takes to go through the build-measure-learn cycle by allowing you to make little changes to your site and learn quickly whether the changes had positive or negative results. Use the Lean Design methodology when you have a large audience with many return visitors. If your site has little traffic and the current design is flawed, consider a complete design overhaul instead. Focus on your most important buyers, the users responsible for the most revenue, when redesigning your website.