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To designers, usability professionals are like grade school hall monitors, looking for rule violations and ratting out perpetrators:

  • “Here's a mistake: Links must be blue and underlined.”
  • “Critical Error! Logo must be at top left.”
  • “Hey, this text isn't black 12-point Arial on a white background!”

Why all the rules? Don't they just kill innovation? If we followed all the usability rules, wouldn't we end up with boring, moronically-simple websites? And wouldn't all websites start to look the same?

Those are fair enough objections, and I'll discuss the design perspective in a later entry. But for now, let's consider the perspective of the usability team.

The usability perspective

Most websites aren't just works of art; they serve a business purpose. If users can't accomplish their online tasks, then regardless of how beautiful a website is, that website is a failure. Period.

Usability professionals have assembled an enormous body of research on how users interact with websites. We have actual evidence, demonstrating exactly what design elements work… and what design elements don't work.

To make the research actionable – to ensure the research findings are not inadvertently ignored – we've consolidated this knowledge into checklists of “heuristics”.

Since we know how to make websites usable, why don't we use this knowledge? To usability experts, ignoring well established usability principles is suicide.

Yes, following checklists is frustrating for designers. And it's no fun having to play hall monitor either. But to my way of thinking, our first responsibility is to our clients.

To get results for our clients, we have to make websites that are usable to customers. For the time being at least, that means bringing out the dreaded checklist.