For those of us who spend every day immersed in online environments, it’s easy to lose site of the “average user experience”. But when designing your site, you can’t make the mistake of not seeing the forest for the trees (or the interface for the source code).
Consider the following exchange, a favorite among Customer Service trainers:
Helpdesk: Double click on “My Computer”
User: I can’t see your computer.
Helpdesk: No, double click on “My Computer” on your computer.
Helpdesk: There is an icon on your computer labeled “My Computer”. Double click on it.
User: What’s your computer doing on mine?
Your first reaction might be that the user is stupid or hopelessly technically challenged. But the fault here is actually with the Customer Service rep. He or she is presuming a familiarity with a desktop layout and icon design that the user does not automatically possess. If you had never seen a Windows desktop before, would you know where to find the “My Computer” icon? As advertising legend David Ogilvy famously said, “The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife.”
So, when creating great user experiences the first question you need to ask is …
Who are your customers and what is their computer skill set?
It’s a truism of our current age of personalization – it is impossible to make a single product be all things to all people. Just as clothing size, car seats and eyeglasses need to be adjusted to suit different people so do web site user interfaces. Some sites aimed at people over 40 have user adjustable options to adjust the font size on screen.
Reading styles differ in younger Generation Z computer users than older Generation X users. The Z Generation generally scan a page and choose what to do in a very different way from people that did not grow up with interactive content displays. Consider the implications of reading each page of a web site like a book… top left to bottom right…. before you decide what to do (this is also where testing tools like TOBII laser eye tracking can help with site optimization).
Good web design considers the demographics of the intended audience and enables design options that support the preferences and capabilities of the users. Things to consider are as simple as font size and background contrast to help people with presbyopia or other visual conditions. Think about screen sizes, connection speeds, and installed plug-ins. If you were designing for the AARP site would you build a heavy Flash interface with Twitter streams and multiple video feeds?
The cardinal rule for good web design (and really all good design) is that form must follow function. And the functions of your site are dictated by your targeted user group. Identify them (and their skills) and you will have taken the first step on the path to a fully optimized site.
Once that core group of users has been profiled, you will be ready to answer the next question in the development process …
Why are my customers coming to my website?