Usability Over Design: Or Why Form Should Always Follow Function

The explosion of content marketing in the past three years has meant that the amount of written and video content online has increased massively. The rate of content generation, good and bad, is now so massive that a lot of it stands little chance of ever getting seen. Because of this explosion in content, Google has been struggling to deliver on its vision for highly relevant and intuitive search results, especially in the longtail where branding and authority are often less obvious.

The awakening of business owners to marketing through content publication, driven by Google insisting they do that rather than build links, has led to an explosion in effort on this front.

Google attacked linkbuilding and screamed “create great content”. Well, people did it. They simply replaced their linkbuilding efforts with similar levels of content generation.

What has become obvious to people creating good content, rather than just churning it out, is that it has to be front and centre now, not tucked away in a footer link called “blog”. If it is not right in your visitors face and easy to digest, then your bounce rate will be high and your consumer-driven social marketing response poor.

The result of all this has been a move towards design becoming almost purely motivated by the need to present content for consumption.

Google Had To Clear Up Search

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When it comes to search engines, Google sets the standard and is basically the police officer of search.

To try and get rid of people simply building massive amounts of links to rank, the message from Google, and the focus of their algorithm development, has been around spotting great content and becoming better at penalising dubious tactics.

So with sites being rewarded more and more for their content, people are now very focused on optimising how that content is delivered and marketed.

Google itself gives guidelines on this, making it clear that usability and clear presentation of information should always come first before design considerations.

The Public Couldn't Cope With The Web As It Was

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If the net was not rapidly evolving in terms of presentation, people simply wouldn't be able to cope with the new levels, and variations in the type, of information generated.

Sites that focused on design over usability, through massive amounts of graphics and underlying code appeared beautiful, but they could not cope with delivering the information into a user's browser across multiple devices.

Layers of CSS, huge sliced images, javascript, browser compatibility fixes strapped on everywhere. It looked good to Joe Public once it loaded, but underneath it was a mess. And once it had loaded, where did they find the content?

So things had to be simplified.

This led to far more focus on minimising design architecture in order to maximise information presentation for consumption.

One of the benefits of this has been that intuitive design has grown.

Even as little as three years ago, most designers and website owners would have laughed at the thought of having their main site menu offscreen.

But with the explosion in mobile device usage and mobile app development, the public are so used to finding navigational elements offscreen, that it's no longer a dealbreaker to ask someone to swipe to reveal onpage elements.

So visual beauty has been replaced by functional beauty, and the canvas of a webpage now expands beyond the borders of the screen.

Design For Presenting Content Is Not Boring Design

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Content Design

Thankfully, Internet browsers have also evolved more rapidly to allow for a far more singular design structure.

The days of hacking CSS layers to get things to look right across browsers are mostly over.

This has meant the design of websites can now be around the core that they should have always been, namely displaying content for easy consumption.

This new intelligent design means that content can be disseminated more rapidly, and consumed more easily. The benefit being quick understanding, which lowers bounce rates and creates a higher level of engagement.

Engagement Equals Loyalty

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Simplified design that focuses on information delivery, coupled with higher quality search results means that people are finding the information they need from visiting fewer websites.

This is leading to a new type of brand loyalty.

If your information is high quality and delivered rapidly, it allows people to focus on your message more easily, which creates loyalty.

By delivering on your part of the bargain, people trust you, which allows them the headspace to investigate your brand further.

The benefit is higher engagement levels across your website and social media.

So by presenting great information well, it is consumed and understood more quickly. This leads to trust building, which leads to brand loyalty. Suddenly we can think more about direct marketing again, rather than purely hoping Google will send us enough visitors to survive.

Usability Over Design Is Your Contribution To Web 3.0

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The linkbuilding rush turned search results into a quagmire.

When Google started smashing linkbuilding as a means of gaining search engine rankings, people turned to content marketing.

The problem with both of these strategies was the same. The focus was entirely on massive generation, rather than a focus on quality.

This led to most website owners and marketing firms focusing completely on the wrong thing. The process became fixated on driving traffic, rather than considering what people did when they arrived.

But thankfully that focus is also moving. Talk is now of “Web 3.0” and a “Semantic Web”, where information is more easily found and shared, and is readily collaborative.

Design is core to usability now, not just for making things look good. Web designers and content marketers are now unified in a more singular approach, with the goal to present information for rapid and complete consumption.

Brands are often now grown through information quality, which has the knock-on effect of building social media interaction, leading to passive marketing of your business.

It means a refreshing change of focus. You can create great content, deliver your message and create an information brand. You can blog about what you're passionate about in business, rather than worrying about if your website is more beautiful than anyone else's.

So the message is clear.

Make your website responsive, so that it can be displayed rapidly in any device, on any connection.

Focus your design on information presentation and sharing. Create a structure that delivers a unified approach across your entire online real estate. Make it easy for people to get your message.

Creating great information will deliver a great user experience, which leads to brand loyalty.

It really is all very simple.

So why is it taken us so long to get here?