Make web tasks faster

Google says a faster web will make a better world, that customers prefer websites that are faster, and that we’ve only just begun. We agree. But Google cannot do this on its own. So Google is asking people to work together. We believe this requires a rigorous focus on user tasks. In this article we offer some ways to make web tasks faster.

Google has evidence that people prefer websites that are faster, and that even small changes to save a couple seconds add up. So Google is introducing things and promoting other people’s efforts to speed up page-load times. Google introduced the Go programming language and Chrome browser. They promote optimization tools such as PageSpeed, a Firebug extension, and webpagetest.org. They promote Yahoo’s efforts like YSlow (pronounced why slow), and rules for faster-loading web pages in Steve Souder’s book High Performance Websites.

But efforts at optimizing page-load times will only tackle a fraction of the overall user experience time. A user can take much longer to accomplish a web task than it takes for the web pages to load. Thus our big challenge is in solving usability problems after the page loads. This requires us to make user tasks faster. If you test your web tasks, you know the value of saving the user’s valuable time. If you manage a large website you know you can’t make all pages faster – you prioritize your scarce resources on key pages. That’s why more and more people are focusing on top tasks – to focus scarce resources on web pages that matter to users.

So user experience professionals can greatly help Google make the web faster. To do so we need to 1) focus efforts on the really top tasks and 2) radically reduce the time it takes users to do them. How can you help? If you already know your users’ top tasks, here are seven ways you can help:

    1. Make landing pages immediately clear

      • Make top tasks stand out on key landing pages – when people arrive at your site they are scanning quickly
      • Put key links in visible places with words user will recognize
      • Get people started on their top task as quickly as possible
      • Assign real estate proportionate to the importance of the task
      • Eliminate clutter – avoid duplicate links that take users’ time and attention
      • Downplay anything that does not directly support visitors’ top tasks

Read more on landing page design

    1. Make links and menus faster to scan

      • Avoid jargon in links and menus
      • Avoid graphics that distract from key links – e.g. human faces, motion graphics, etc.
      • Lead with the need – place the important words first in link labels and menu items
      • Make links brief and to the point

Read more guidelines for good links

    1. Make task journeys faster

      • Provide a clear, uninterrupted path to users’ tasks – support progress toward the user’s goal every step of the way
      • Don’t make the user read if they are in scanning mode
      • Use mega-drop-down menus or other Web 2.0 and AJAX widgets to provide users with immediate access to top tasks, rather than having to navigate your information architecture to find them
      • Make accessible task completion faster using W3C guidelines and AJAX techniques
      • Manage the number of choices at every step along a task journey – search, arrival, navigation, and destination

Read more about choices along a task path

    1. Make form-filling faster
      • Only make users enter information that is essential to complete the task
      • Don’t make the user re-enter information they have already provided
      • Pre-fill fields with meaningful defaults
      • Keep forms as brief as possible
      • Use a calendar so people don’t waste time on mistakes in date format
      • Arrange form fields for quick scanning and entry – and put field titles above data-entry fields if possible

Read more about form design

  1. Preserve the task-context

    • Save the user’s context when links send them to another site – send them to a relevant page not a Home page
    • Don’t make users tell you what they want multiple times – make every click count
    • Make sure pages match the expectations users have when they click
    • When information is needed for a decision, don’t make users look around for it
    • Provide concise feedback to the user about what the system is doing, or what is happening
  2. Help users recover from errors faster

    • When the user makes an error, show them how to correct it quickly
    • De-activate links to a page when the user is viewing that page
    • Show users which pages they’ve already visited by highlighting links they’ve followed
  3. Make web applications faster

    • Bring essential data from the application to the user’s task rather than making the user launch the application to get it
    • Don’t make the user log on unless the benefit is clear to them

Make web tasks faster – help make the world better. Read our brief history of time on task if you need some background on the importance. Ready to track how well you’re doing? We can help measure your progress with tools like the Task Performance Indicator.

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“The world can be seen as only connections… A piece of information is defined by what it is related to, and how it is related. The structure is everything”

Sir Tim Berners-Lee – Weaving the Web

 


 

 

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