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User-Centred Web Design

Web designers face a constant challenge to design and build websites that meet the exact requirements of the people who are going to be using them.

There are various reasons why this isn’t easy. It can often feel as though the design is a collaboration between the web designer and the client, each contributing their ideas and preferences and creating a product which is a combination of the two. In many situations the web designer won’t have used the client’s website before. This means that significant research is required to help identify exactly who the end user is.

Furthermore, a primary objective for the web designer is to ensure that the website functions technically. This means that greater emphasis can be placed on ensuring that the site is working well (ie no broken links, cross-browser issues or slow-loading pages) that it is possible to completely forget about who the website design will be used by.

This is why the principle of user-centred design is so helpful for website designers.

Garrett Heath’s article for .net magazine outlines some exceptionally helpful principles that he gleaned from a Tony Santos talk.

He explains that in every area of life we encounter unhelpful examples of design which are unhelpful for the user:

Doors with two pull handles and computer programs that have windows with a variety of checkboxes, dropdowns and radio buttons. One example plaguing modern ecommerce sites is when a user is required to give their email address before being allowed to browse the site. While that might serve the business needs of driving signups and even sales, that is not a very human-centered approach.

It sounds obvious enough, but adopting a human-centred approach is absolutely essential if you’re going to maximise the effectiveness of your website design. If the end user doesn’t like it, then it doesn’t really matter what the web designer or even the client think; there is still work to be done…

Heath helpfully asserts that many of us aren’t quite sure exactly who the end-user is. Whilst some businesses are functioning in a very clear niche, many of us are hoping to engage with a broader audience and reach new customers. He shares an extremely helpful framework to help us think about (and research) the end-user of a website design:

  • Primary Users – the group of people that must have all their needs met (they should absolutely love the website design and deliver overwhelmingly positive feedback)
  • Secondary Users – the group that almost gets everything that they want (they should find the website design extremely helpful)
  • Negative Users – the group of people you are purposefully ignoring (they may or may not like your website design; because they are unlikely to bring new business to your company, this doesn’t matter at this point in time)

If you have questions about the effectiveness of your website design, or want to think through a more user-centred approach, why not contact us today to find out how we can help…