As part of our ongoing research, we monitor the usability of many websites. Some of these are the websites of CRI corporate members, others are large-scale corporate websites which many people use and depend on.

We are observing a disturbing trend. The usability of many of the sites we monitor is going backwards. Some sites were not very good to start with. But in a number of cases, after major redesigns, their usability has got worse.

Some of the obvious symptoms of this deteriorating usability are:

  • -unnecessary use of photographs and flash
  • -too many menus and navigational devices
  • -poor typographic hierarchy
  • -indiscriminate use of lines, boxes, icons and colour.

These are, of course, just the outward symptoms. The consequences are sites that are unnecessarily difficult for people to navigate and use.

Typically, organisations do not know a great deal about the usability of their sites before they go through an expensive redesign, so they are in no position to make a judgement about their website’s usability after the redesign. As a consequence, they cannot tell whether they have got a decent return on their investment (ROI) in the redesign.

Based on our experience with the current generation of websites, we would suggest that an organisation should expect a minimum $10.00 ROI in productivity improvements for every $1 spent on a redesign. If you are a commercial organisation, selling directly to the public, an ROI of $100 for every dollars invested is not an unreasonable expectation.

These large ROIs say something about the poor quality of many current generation websites and how much they could be improved. In some cases, the only reason the websites work at all is because of the ingenuity and perseverance of the people who use them, rather than the skill of the designers who create them.

And judging by some of the recent redesigns we are seeing, web designers are not getting any better at their craft.