It is true that Web design usability has been the subject of much debate in the design, technology and UX arena in the past couple of years. This has been brought about with the push for some form of standardization alongside the advancements in technology. The Internet now has become much bigger and better with its capacity being almost unlimited. Then there have been tools like HTML5 and AJAX, which help provide top notch elegance with a simple base and this has led to the emergence of two schools of thought, which have different ideas about which direction Web design should go from now. They are standard utilitarianism versus the huge expression and complexity of design.
Each school of thought actually has a very solid case on its side depending on your point of view. The true fact, however, is that this is not the case. In order to have a clear perspective of this, it is important that you go back to the days when our World Wide Web was still in its formative years, and technology that had been designed to support it was also still in its early stages.
During the early years of the launch of the current World Wide Web, there were very many limits on what one could do with any Web page. The simplicity of the Web was such that people were only limited to using bullet points, frames, tables, and simple text concepts and the most basic images and pictures. Some are still being used today though the frequency of their use has been diminishing steadily over time. When people are in a technically and visually limited environment, their creativity and ingenuity is stimulated. This was clearly demonstrated by our World Wide Web during its formative years when everything was so complicated and limited. Some of the best ideas were born during that time.
At the time, there were some very basic general design trends that were used. There was no standardized format to provide guidelines on how the pages were supposed to be made. The design of the Web page thus depended wholly on the choices of the designer. Each Web page provided you with an insight into the mind of its designer since everyone created the Web page according to how they thought it should look like. This obviously brought about many difficulties. Navigating Web pages was quite hard since each page differed from the last one and had its own distinct format and was hard to use. This was very stressful when compared to the modern pages and designs.
In the 2000s, more and more advanced technologies began to emerge that led to a major shift from the utilitarian design to the standardized form. Many of the websites, which had an extremely large following before the shift, died almost instantly after they shifted their websites to the standard form. Most claimed the reason for their decline was that they had changed what had attracted their followers initially and that they were now not the same websites people used to follow. It was during this time that websites became much easier to use since almost all of them used a similar format. The downside however is that they became less engaging and more mechanical.
Come 2007 with the emergence of HTML5 and AJAX, websites became more lively and personal. They allowed the addition of more designs and customization of websites while at the same time maintaining their standardized format. Websites now became much easier to use since they were almost similar. Each website now had its own design and outlook when compared to other websites but the layout still remained the same. Navigation was now easier and websites became more engaging and personalized. The confusion while surfing that existed before was now a thing of the past. What most people fail to grasp now is that the growth and usability of the internet has been brought about by mixing the emotional aspect and the standard layout of Web pages. You can now navigate websites almost entirely by using your instincts. This just goes to show that web design usability is interrelated and that none can exist without the other.
Danielle Arad is Director of Marketing and User Experience Specialist of WalkMe.com, the world's first interactive website guidance system. She is also chief writer and editor of UX Motel, a blog for user experience experts. Follow her @uxmotel.
Edited by Alisen Downey