Jakob’s recent Alertbox discussing the stability of web usability principles ends with a comment how people naively state that web usability concepts are obvious. (yes, that is a major paraphrase, sorry JN)
You may look at my website and say that I need to apply my own principles, and you’d be right. You may look at my work website and say the same, and you’d be right again. However, this only re-enforces Jakob’s point – You can’t just look at your website and say, “this is easy” or “this is hard.”
In my own testing, which involves watching users as they try to accomplish specific goals with a website, they get stuck or hung up on things that are completely unexpected. Stuff that seems ridiculously obvious to you, the designer/programmer/technical user may not be obvious. And likewise, things you may think need work may not be a problem.
I video taped users at BusinesSolver. The staff there said that they knew people would get stuck on a certain task and out of six testers, not one had a problem with it. However, they got stumped on a number of other, completely unexpected tasks.
The only thing that will make your website or application easier to use is user testing. If you stick to well known, well published design guidelines, you won’t need much testing. However, the fun in web design is pushing the limits and trying new stuff. The more edgy you are, the more you’ll need to test if you want your site to be usable.