I am building a website. Some pages contain instructions (a few simple sentences, nothing intimidating) and have fairly standard controls (drop-downs etc).
There's not a lot on any one page. The presentation is about as uncluttered as I can make it, there is nothing particularly complicated or unusual going on, but I'm baffled by the first usability tests.
I've sat a few of friends and family in front of this thing and watched them interact and discover features. They're all familiar with computers and websites. These two problems crop up all the time:
Users don't read things. I observe this. Also, they tell me: "I don't read things".
Controls are invisible. Users ask me "where is such-and-such" and I point right into the centre of the screen. "Oh. There. Ho ho silly me."
I was prepared for my buttons and labels to be perhaps confusing or out-of-place. I wasn't prepared for the possibility that they'd be ignored entirely.
Other similar behaviours took me by surprise, for example if a piece of terminology surprises them they'll ask me what it is, but they won't click the link, the idiomatic blue link, which the word in question... is.
Usually, the feature is obvious to the users once it is pointed-out. Fairly self-evident in retrospect. I don't have much of a problem with the difficulty of the features, I have a massive problem of visibility. The users seem to be skimming over the controls and instructions assuming they're not important -- my design approach so far has been to put nothing on the screen which isn't important. Nothing can safely be skimmed.
Some pages have a linear flow of interaction and could be redesigned to expose one thing at a time -- stepping the user through -- which I imagine might work. Other pages are to be explored free-form, so adding such constraints makes no sense.
So here's my question: can someone please direct me to some design advice so I can make the user simply pay attention to what's right in front of them? To stop them skimming?