Legibility vs Usability and their effect on Sales

There is a major difference between these three concepts in internet website design:

  • Legibility : Is it easy to read?
  • Usability : Is it practical and fast to navigate?
  • Sales : Does it persuade the reader to actually act on what he has read?

Logically the three seem to be a tier: legibility and usability must to be in place before a “call to action” can occur. Humans however, are not that logical. I have struggled for hours with frustratingly unwieldy websites because the price was right and I wanted the goods. I have delighted in browsing through intelligent, well-structured websites – and not bought a single item.

At the end of the day, if your website contains the information, products or services the reader wants, and he can’t find better elsewhere (either online or offline) he will often slog through the catalogue, and then telephone to place an order or to find out more information.

So if it works anyway, why bother with legibility, aesthetics, usability or persuasion at all? Well, as more companies publish websites that ARE useable and informative, so fewer people will expend the time and effort required to scramble through a confusing or sloppy website.

Your prospect is just one click away from a competitor’s website. How do you make sure that your sales prospects choose to stay with you?


Designers hate to be constrained and you definitely don’t want to be so predictable that you come across as boring. But the following basics are important to achieve legibility (and along the way, it doesn’t hurt to make it beautiful)

  • Check that every word, image, graphic and layout element is necessary to attract, interest, inform and motivate. Don’t offer superfluous information that distracts your prospect.
  • Make sure that text is of a size and typeface that is legible on screen (Times Roman is great on paper, but very hard to read at 10point on a normal screen. Small italic print of any typeface is usually illegible).
  • Your site’s content must be clear, concise and easy to scan (use subheads and captions).
  • Don’t try to do too much on one page. The content and organisation of the page should be recognized with a single glance.
  • Design your website based on your customers’ preference of browser and screen size, not your own.
  • Calls-to-action generally should be in contrast to the rest of the design. Visitors shouldn’t have to work to find what to do next.


If legibility is about “look” then usability is more about “information flow” and structure.

Usability is judged on the prospect’s subjective experience. His age, computer literacy, wants, perspectives and motivations as well as the software browser he chooses to use are key factors in designing a useable website.

  • Make sure information and links are placed where a visitor is most likely to look for them. Generally:
  • Global information appears along the top. They will only look at it when they need it. A specials banner above the banner might not be noticed at all.
  • The central area of the screen is where the eye naturally wants to land. This is the “active window,” where the site should focus on the selling process.
  • Left is a stabilising area, where a visitor looks for comprehensive navigation.
  • The right is a good place for assurances, extra information and links for more detail.
  • Include a search facility, but try to track what readers search for. A good navigation structure (based on the reader’s perspective) should make searching a last resort.
  • Keep your general design scheme consistent. You can shock a person out of the browsing process by suddenly changing colours, menu location or content style.

Don’t let the medium get in the way of the message. Just because you can have zooming, multi-colour headlines doesn’t mean you should have them. Is it adding to your message, or is it the technical developer’s way of showing off his skills?


The ability of your website to motivate an “action step” is usually mostly about content. At its best, a website is a persuasive, interactive conversation with a prospect – a 24 hour, international salesperson.

Buying is fundamentally an emotional decision and usually a very private, one-on-one experience. That means the site must present information so that each and every prospect can finds what he wants, presented in the way he likes it. Yes, it’s difficult. The marketer must try to follow the prospect’s “logic” in terms of the sales process. What will he want to know? What will worry him? Have we said enough? Or too much?

Marketing professionals will be familiar with this technique but it’s not an instinctive process to a web designer from a technical IT background.

A good home page tells the prospect exactly what the company does and how they do it differently than the competition. For the record, a company that believes its marketing message starts with a mission and vision statement is in serious peril.

In an effort to be helpful, many websites unintentionally distract their prospects in the middle of the action step by sending them back to other areas of the site. And even to other company’s websites.

Your prospect’s search for your company name would have also brought back every article written about your company, nationally and internationally in the past 5 years. That level of information access means people are armed with the ability to detect inconsistencies and half-truths.

Statistics show that most prospects prefer to write email or telephone than fill out a pre-designed “expression of interest” form, especially if it requires too much personal information.

If you have a form, make sure it works. And make sure someone human responds within 24 hours to every form, email or a telephonic request. Automated responses don’t count.

Marketing departments and sales departments are often separated. If you aren’t sure what customers want to know, find your company’s best salesman and ask how customers go about buying.

Software interface design

The Internet introduced the world to the idea that human-computer interfaces could be so intuitive and easy-to-use that a member of the public could enter information accurately without any training.

InterComm builds on 15 years of internet and intranet development to help companies and software developers improve the usability of their interfaces.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s