Time Craigslist Paid Attention to Usabilty

header CraigslistI am a long time fan of Craigslist. When founder Craig Newmark spoke at the 2008 PRSA International Conference in Detroit I cheered when he discussed his focus on usability over eye-candy design. I am starting to wonder what happened to that laser focus.

Craigslist is not user-friendly. It’s old-school set up, combined with a complete lack of visual support to help the user accomplish tasks, makes the site hard to use. The site is long overdue for a makeover to employ best practices in navigation and other user experience tools.

Take, for example, my latest experience. I am trying to clear 25 years of clutter out of my house and expressed to a coworker that I was disappointed at the lack of participation in my local freecycle group. He asked if I tried the Craigslist free stuff option.

I had no recollection of seeing an option to list a free item at the site and assumed I was just overlooking it. Not really. Interestingly, “free stuff” is listed under the For Sale category on the home page. Yeah, that’s intuitive.

I have now listed items in the category more than a dozen times and also take issue with that process. To create a listing for an item that you want to give away, you have to pick “for sale by owner.” On the next screen you can then pick free stuff among a cluttered list of categories. It is easy to miss if you don’t know to look for it.

I also find managing my listings to be challenging. Craigslist calls this “my account” and lists it as a link on the left of the page. I think this may be the only site that does not simply have “create account/log in” as a navigation item in the upper right of the page.

When you remove an item  from being listed at the site, oddly you can’t get back to your other listings or the main site from the confirmation page. The only option on the final screen is to undelete. You need to use the back arrow or retype the home page URL to get anywhere.

I am all for keeping a website streamlined and not overwhelming the content with design. I do think, however, that web best practices and user knowledge have evolved to the point that there is a good understanding of what’s effective and what obscures. A solid navigation scheme and design elements can actually enhance the usability of a site. It is time for Craigslist web managers to bone up on best practices and put them to use.