One thing I hear a lot while working on the web is: “I like it! That design looks good”. Beauty is king. This type of comment implies that the design has met its goals by being pleasant to the eye. While being ‘pretty’ is important, does it really matter? What I would really like to hear is “I like it! That is an incredibly easy to use web page! Usability should be considered first, not last when designing and developing a website. Often it seems that ‘features’ are more important than making a clear, concise, usable site.
Some common usability mistakes:
Kitchen sink home page. You know the one. The home page that lists EVERYTHING the company has to offer — the home page should set the tone for the entire site not be a collection of links.
Too many top-level navigation items. The top-level navigation should be no more than 5-7 links for maximum scannability. There are some exceptions to this, Amazon has 13 top-level items for example. But it is safe to say most people are not designing sites as large as Amazon.com.
Overly complicated forms. When generating sales leads or sign-up information there is no reason to ask 20 questions of your users. It is better to strike fast and get the lead before a user gets distracted or has second thoughts.
Too small of a font size. Generally the body copy should be at least 12px for best readability. 13px is probably better. I see a lot of print designers designing websites with 10 and 11 point font. While this may be desirable for print design — it can be difficult to read on screen.
Remember, web design without good usability is merely decoration — and who wants to be a web decorator?