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July 20, 2018

Does Your Website Need to be More Functional or Usable?

capabilities covered
Graphic Design Branding Responsive Design User Experience Information Architecture

In corner 1, we have –

Functionality: The Features

“The quality or state of being functional; especially the set of functions or capabilities associated with computer software or hardware or an electronic device”

Merriam-Webster

And over in corner 2 –

Usability: The Interactions

“The extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use.“

International Organization for Standardization (ISO)

Ding!

The Debate

The most effective websites are consistent and hard working. They process and share information with ease. When a user makes a request, the websites follow through. But, they are also user friendly. A consumer doesn’t become lost in a labyrinth of content. They don’t get stuck at the check out. The user experience (UX) is simple and enjoyable.

So, how do you design a website to do complex tasks while being simple enough for its intended user to access? Does functionality hold more value than usability? Or is it the other way around?

The What of Functionality

Functionality encompasses all the ins and outs of a website. It’s the foundation, providing users on both sides the tools they need to complete a task. There are security measures put in place to protect data. Information architecture, the organizing of content, is a priority. Search capabilities are strong. The check out process on an eCommerce site is well managed. New apps are unique and helpful. Every piece comes together to make a website good at what it does. This is vital to the existence of a site. If it doesn’t do its job, then why does it even exist?
 
But while designing the code to make a site sleek and high powered, the UX can fade from memory. New features continue to pop up as designers look to provide many opportunities for a user to visit a site. But, adding new features does not mean that the UX has improved. Clients are often excited to see new and functional apps. They are appreciative that the site design has provided more options. In fact, it may have filled a need the users didn’t even know they had. But once the “new car smell” disappears, are the users still happy?

The How of Usability

Sure, the functional design of the site might have helped. It may have provided users with the ability to do something that makes their job easier. But, if the design doesn’t provide a clear pathway, how can the user achieve their goal? Without an intuitive, memorable, and efficient way for them to reach the finish line, the UX fails. The site works well but users are unable to figure out how to make it do so.
 
What is the next step? Do you pull focus from the actions of the site over to the user appeal? And how do you alter the design to work for the diverse audience the site will have? One thing is for sure. Determining a singular, specific way a user should interact with the system, can be a risk. The UX could alienate and frustrate some users. Removing features to streamline interactions might seem appreciated by users at first. But, this can often result in feature requests pouring in. They actually want the app you let go of on the quest to an ideal UX. Trying to manage the tension between functionality and usability is hard. In fact, it may be one of the hardest things about web design.

“Do you cripple your design in the name of user-friendliness, or do you blast your users in the face with power and overwhelm them with your interface?” -Josh Pelton, Bad Design

How do we know which side of this debate to align with? First, we need to eliminate some common misconceptions.

Misconceptions

There are plenty.

Multiple options appeal to a wider user base -False

Good UX is not about adding more features/options. It’s about improving interactions based on how a user needs/wants to engage with the system.

The user may not even know they want to interact in a different way until something better comes along. So instead of defaulting to the answer that more is more, try to look at the issue from a different angle. Too many options can cause “Decision Paralysis”. This means that the user suffers even more mental grief as they ponder too many choices for the same task. This may lead them to abandon the site altogether.

Adding more features increases efficiency -False

Good UX will provide users with a path of least resistance. Offering loads of features can cloud this approach. Follow the 80/20 rule. 20% of the functional features in any one environment will be responsible for 80% of the results. Never lose sight of what the ultimate goal is for every interaction. If a user can avoid calling a help desk, that is a UX win.

Simplicity reduces functionality -False

Successful design does not have to act like a Swiss Army knife. Instead, it should allow the user an appropriate level of autonomy. Customizing the UX for a user can help maintain simplicity and efficiency. On top of that, it can also adapt to the user’s ability to access the website
 
The obvious conclusion here is that both functionality and usability are equally important. There is no official winner in this face off. But, how do we find the right balance? There is no simple answer. Here are some basic best practices that can help. These approaches can ensure a good balance between the two key design goals.

Recommendations

  • Efficiency and simplicity should be the primary focus for the site’s foundation. Start with a User-Centered design. Features and functionality should be the rooms and floors that sit atop it.
  • Time is money. Do not forget how long it takes to create new features and then train users to access them. Developing a new system with tons of bells and whistles is all well and good. But if it lacks a solid UX, it can take longer to add to the site. Then it becomes a change management nightmare. Implementing loads of features on a shaky foundation makes the training process harder.
  • Never assume that all users are equal. If possible, give users the ability to customize the amount of features and options they want. You do not have to take away features to allow for this. But you do need to know who you’re building for. Let more advanced users find those special features. Don’t drown less experienced users with features they don’t need or understand.

All Things in Moderation

The intricacy of system features within solid usability is all about balance. Let your users drive that balance by always striving for true user-centered design. Keep them at the forefront of every design decision. Challenge any and all feature requests. Especially the ones that may question the integrity of the initial design direction. This will guide you to the right mix of functionality and usability. Then everyone wins.

Atlantic BT knows a thing or two about finding balance with a web design. Contact our teams today to discuss your ideas and vision. Together, we can craft a website you can be proud of.

capabilities covered
Graphic Design Branding Responsive Design User Experience Information Architecture

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