The idea of design hierarchy sits on an assumption that in order for a website to be successful, it should satisfy lower, basic needs before it can meet higher-level needs. Before a website can ‘wow’ users, it should work properly first. It should meet all minimal requirements first or it won’t matter at all. Your website should meet these criteria before you try to give higher-level needs to users
A website should function properly before anything else. A car needs to able to move forward, turn, reverse and stop properly, before manufacturers add things that can improve comfort. If a car can’t perform basic functions well, then the whole concept has failed miserably. The number of features is irrelevant. Although a car is equipped with sophisticated satellite navigation, it would be useless if the car has no engine or tires. A function is actually an essential feature, but who should define which features are essential? The designer? The website owner? The users? Websites that fail to meet basic functions are of no value. A good way to define basic functions of your website is to determine the needs of your users, for example it should deliver useful contents, load the pages in a reasonable amount of time, have working navigational elements and can respond to basic browser functionality like ‘Forward’ and ‘Back’.
Once a website meets all functional requirements, it should move up one step by providing reliability. A functional website should be perfectly stable and have consistent performance. It should not only work, it should work again and again. If a car sometimes starts and sometimes doesn’t, then it doesn’t meet the reliability requirement. If it can run but does it erratically, then it doesn’t meet reliability requirements. Websites that fail to meet reliability requirements are perceived as to have little value. Again, users expect a website to work consistently. What works yesterday and today, should work again in the future. When new features and pages are added, they should work as well as other features and pages.
It determines how easily users can accomplish basic tasks. Can people drive a newly released car model immediately? Can people easily start the car and work with the transmission? These are only a few of the usability factors of a car. Your website should also be highly usable and first-time visitors should be able to figure it out easily. Is your design forgiving and easy to use? What happen if a visitor clicks the wrong button and make other unintentional mistakes? Consequences of a mistake shouldn’t be dire. Users should be able to go to the main page easily if they arrive to a webpage by mistake. Websites that are functional, reliable and usable are perceived as a decent website. People have basic usability expectations; they can recognize things that don’t work well. A usable website offers straightforward navigation system, intuitive layout and readable text
Does your website empower users to do better and more? Does a car allow you to easily adjust the suspension and navigation settings? There are proficiency requirements for both the car and website. It is not imperative to have suspension settings that can be adjusted to match the gravel road or smooth highway road, but if car owners can adjust it easily, it would improve things considerably. Websites are regarded as proficient if they can function at a higher level. It should allow people to do certain things that are not possible previously and to improve basic functionality. For example, a proficient website should feature advanced search features and data filtering.
Once all lower-level requirements are satisfied, web developers can start to work creatively with the website. With the above requirements met, your website can finally interact with users in innovative ways. Web developers can create things and explore on the basic concept of the website. Perhaps the car can now require both a physical key and fingerprint recognition to turn on the ignition. A car or website that meets creative requirements is perceived as high-quality and/or feature-rich product. It often generates a loyal following or fan base. If you’re wondering why Apple is so successful, you should find out how it satisfies creativity requirements. A creative design could include interaction through voice commands, highly aesthetic appeal and AJAX effects.
Does a website have to be reliable before it is usable? Can’t developers meet both requirements at the same time? Could a website meet proficiency requirements for skilled users while having mediocre usability values for beginners? Do we really need to follow the hierarchy one step at a time? Will users tolerate things that don’t work well ten percent of the time but work admirably for the other ninety percent? Intuitively, the design makes sense and user expectations will determine functional, reliability, usability, proficiency and creativity requirements. However, there are cases where higher level needs are prioritized before lower level ones. The design hierarchy will work most of the time but it’s not absolute. Your situation can be different and you need to be flexible. As with all websites, determine unique requirements of your audience and target market, for example, your visitors may prefer a website with good aesthetical elements although they hiccup sometimes, while others may prefer a perfectly reliable website that delivers quality content, although it looks a little boring. It is perfectly possible to meet higher-level requirements before meeting all lower-level requirements, as long as you know which requirements you should prioritize. Obviously, if all your pages refuse to load then everything else is useless. You need to remedy critical functional problems before worrying about reliability requirements. Only look at the design hierarchy as a guide, but satisfying lower-level requirements before trying to meet higher-level requirements often makes sense. If a website has usability issues, then you need to solve them before offering features that can make your website more proficient.