Your guide to a usability audits

Standard Beagle
7 min readOct 10, 2022

Usability audits are key to long-term success

In order to keep a product’s life cycle sustainable, regular usability audits are necessary to ensure longevity. Good usability means the product is easy for users to achieve their goals. Over time, user goals will change, or require upgrades to stay viable in the market. Regular audits can reduce the scale of larger usability overhaul, which can cost time and money. Think of it as a regular checkup. While regular checks are not a replacement for an update, smaller usability updates in between major overhauls can show your users you’re invested in the product and their experience.

Keeping users engaged with small updates ensures their engagement and happiness. Here’s some basic points to check when conducting a quick usability audit.

Performance Checks

The speed and stability of a website or platform can speak volumes to your user. Broken links, slow loading times, and non-functioning elements can lose trust and patience with users. 40% of users will leave your site if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load ( https://standardbeagle.com/time-for-website-redesign/). Here are some points to check when auditing performance:

Check for broken links

With regular updates and added content, some pages may get removed or switched around, leading to broken links. By checking for broken links, you can improve SEO.

Slow loading time

Checking loading times is as easy as loading up the page for yourself. As stated before, load times can test users’ patience. Forty-seven percent of users feel pages should take less than 2 seconds to load, while 40% of users will leave after 3 seconds. There are various ways to increase speed, however the first step should be determining if the issue is with specific pages or the site as a whole.

Error prevention

How well are users informed about errors? If users are given correct error messaging, they can correct issues on their own. However, if error messaging is unclear, users will get frustrated and give up. Clear error prevention and direction on how to troubleshoot helps users feel in control of their experience.

Review Visuals

Visual appeal is important to catch users’ attention and hold it. Seventy-five percent of users will judge a website by the aesthetics alone. However, if the visuals get in the way of usability, it will have the opposite effect.

Accessibility

While appealing aesthetics can draw in users, you may be excluding users with disabilities. Visuals with too little value contrast lead to poor readability. Users who are colorblind may be unable to distinguish important information. Low contrast between text and background decreases legibility, and is only made worse with slimmer and smaller fonts. Be aware of AA and AAA accessibility standards.

Consistency

Updates and brand changes can affect the overall look and feel of a product. Updates can improve the longevity by keeping it looking fresh and relevant. However, if the entire site is not updated properly, components, images, and entire pages can have mismatched visuals. This affects users’ trust in the credibility of the product. Users may think they’ve gone to a different site or product if there is a mismatch. Image and graphic styles, color palette, and component styles must be thoroughly checked to ensure consistency across the product.

Iconography

Icons and buttons that are customized to match the product’s aesthetics can tie the visuals together. While visuals should be consistent with the overall styling, it should not be at the expense of the users. The ability to quickly get around is important to bringing on new users and acclimating them to the systems. When users have to learn a whole new set of iconography, or rethink how an icon usually functions, it slows and stops users from continuing with their tasks. For example, a home icon taking users to a settings page, or the home button being a shape without text to indicate where it takes you, can be confusing.

Content Presentation

The way content is presented to users can either hinder or ease their ability to complete tasks.

Text size

Copy written for reports and print materials have different rules from copy for the web. While it’s most common to write in 11 or 12 point text, if body copy is written in this size on a webpage, it becomes harder to read and focus. For some users, it’s too small to read, leading them to have to manually zoom in to read important information. Body copy should be a 14 point minimum so users can comfortably read text.

Content Width

Have you ever tried to read lines that spanned the whole width of your screen? Chances are, there are margins and other elements to a page that make the area with the text shorter. If you did try to read from one side of your screen to the other, you may find yourself losing context or losing your place in the paragraph. The recommended length of a line is 75 characters, so keep this size in mind if users need to read a lot of text.

Headers

Headers serve as titles, break up large sections of text, and indicate important actions to take. However, inconsistent headers without a clear hierarchy can confuse users on what action is important, where to find the appropriate title, and what information they should look at first. Generally, headers should start large at the top of the page, and go down in size as you go down the page. This helps guide the user’s eye down the page naturally. From an accessibility standpoint, going from largest header to smallest header gives people using screen readers a sense of content hierarchy- essentially, what information they should be prioritizing.

Navigation

Without good navigation, users might as well be stuck in a doorless, windowless box. Some UX patterns for good navigation may seem obvious, like having a menu or a bar for users to pick options from. However some navigation issues may not be so obvious.

Pathways that make sense

When enough users can’t find their way through completing a task, it may be tempting to add multiple ways to navigate to the correct destination. This may not fix the underlying issues blocking users from finding the right pages in the first place. Through user testing, determine if the pathways set in the product make sense. Rather than adding more ways to get to the next step that may not align with how users think, optimize an existing pathway.

Pathways that follow conventions

Some modes of navigation may not be in line with existing or widely understood navigation conventions. For example, if the “x” exit or close button is in the bottom right corner of a window, users may not immediately find it. For “x” buttons, their usual placement is the top right corner. Utilizing existing patterns of navigation to your benefit means you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to get users to where they need to go.

Unsavory UX patterns

With an understanding of UX, it may be tempting to force users to take the paths you want. The practice of using UX and UI to force users into taking actions they didn’t intend is called dark UX (article). If users are being forced into navigating and taking tasks, they will feel they don’t have control of their own experience. Even worse, it will appear that you need to coerce users into using a product you don’t believe has merit on its own. Trust in your product and your users will not need to be constrained and herded.

Functionality

Basic functionality is a given for any product, but basic may include functionality that often gets overlooked.

Accessible functions

Accessibility does not stop at visuals. There are various functions that can enhance accessibility. Adding in keyboard navigation is one way to allow users an alternate way to navigate. Users with mobility disabilities may be unable to efficiently navigate by clicking with a mouse. Adding functions for better usability means all users can have a good experience, rather than a baseline usable experience.

Status awareness

Alongside error prevention, adding in various states of buttons, forms, and other components informs the user what is happening. Examples include buttons changing color when clicked and after. Users are assured the action of clicking the button worked, and the action has been registered. Clicking into a search bar often shows a cursor within and a visual indication that you can type. Different states indicate to users their actions are working, and that the product overall is working.

Responsiveness

While this may not apply to every product, most users expect websites and products to be available across desktop, tablet, and mobile devices. Responsive design assures that users will be able to view the product comfortably whether sitting at a desktop, or on their phone on the go. Expanding the capabilities of the platform while meeting user expectations assures user satisfaction.

A thorough check

A basic audit can reveal frustrating issues for users before they become more serious blocks. Preemptive fixes can prevent more drastic overhauls in the future, which can cost more in the long run. Your user base will also feel supported and catered to. These fixes can also show users that you plan to extend the longevity of the product, listen to their needs, and keep it a viable and competitive option.

Originally published at https://standardbeagle.com on October 10, 2022.

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Standard Beagle

Award-winning UX agency helping B2B SaaS and health tech level up against competition to win customers through UX strategy, user research, and product design.