4 Important User Variables to Consider for Better Usability

The things you can't control you must still account for

Technology is an ever-changing beast. To create the best experience for our users; we need to understand the kind of technology they are using. There are four main user variables you cannot control but must consider when building a website. Although your users may all have the same goals; the medium they use to achieve those goals may be different.

Connection Speed

Connection speed is the rate at which a user’s device can connect to the internet and download all the assets for a given webpage. The faster a user can do this, the more willing they are to stay on your site and recommend it to their friends. At the beginning of the commercial internet, users expected any website to take pretty long to load. Today though, our users have the expectation that a good website will load in less than couple seconds. Whether a user is on their desktop or a mobile phone, they expect fast load times. Connection speeds won’t effect the look of your site (when finished loading), but it will have a great impact on the user’s experience with your site.

There are many ways to increase your page load times, from optimizing images, minimizing scripts, and combining files together to reduce the number of asset requests. If you’d like to test the load time of one of your webpages, you can analyze it, find bottlenecks, and get tips to increase load times using PingDom.

Screen Resolution

It seems like every other day there is a new mobile phone coming out that steals the market. It’s not like the old days where we could assume most of our users had a common resolution we could design for. You don’t need to know the exact size of your user’s device to make a good experience for them. You should know that your users will either be using a desktop/laptop, tablet, or smartphone. So design your website for each of those, preferably with a mobile-first approach. The biggest takeaway I can give you is to make sure your text is always legible without zooming in or out. Also, that you don’t clutter mobile users with features that are not relevant to them.

You can utilize Google Analytics to see what kind of device family most of your users use. The Google Chrome Developer Tools has a great function called device mode. It allows you to see your webpage as it would appear to multiple trending screen resolutions.

Web Browser

The user’s web browser is always a very important and sometimes overlooked user variable. The most popular browsers of today are Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari according to W3Counter. Every browser has the same function; retrieve layout and styling information from a host and render it on the user’s screen. But each browser may render things slightly differently than others. You might notice these subtle differences right away in input fields and buttons, but there are also less obvious ones such as default margins.

A great way to combat these render variations is to use Normalize CSS. Normalize CSS is a lightweight CSS reset sheet to make most browsers render elements more consistently.

Operating System

This user variable is not as important as which web browser the user is utilizing, but it does determine which browsers the user can use. For example: an Apple Mac or iPhone users cannot user internet explorer to view your website. So if your website has some type of Internet Explorer dependency (common in government applications), then it would be unusable by Apple users. There are also certain system fonts on Windows that are not available as system fonts to Macs and vice versa.

Your best course of action here is to avoid any operating system dependencies, there are few, so this shouldn’t be hard. When it comes to system fonts that a only available to Mac or Windows avoid those to and use web safe fonts.

I hope you found this article useful. Please feel free to leave any questions, comments or concerns below!