2013_01_prioritizing_the_web_featured Design

Getting Your Design Priorities Right (With Focus On The User)

The web of 2013 is complex and ever-growing. In January, there were already 13.81 billion indexed web pages worldwide. That makes 13,810,000,000 web pages — which is a lot. But not only the number of websites has skyrocketed, they have also become a lot more complex. New technologies allow for new trends. New trends result in new standards. New standards create rising expectations among users.

At the same time, we want our website to be special, to stand out, and to be remembered. But with all the new possibilities and requirements that come with advanced technology, how can we still keep up? How can we set our priorities right and not drown in a see of unrecognized websites among countless others?

The answer is simple: We need a clear focus on the user. Now more than ever, it is important to design websites for people — those people that we want to be our visitors. We must not confuse our website with a showplace for creativity, or a platform to show off our expertise in web technologies. Here is a list of key concepts to consider in web design in 2013.

1. The User Experience

Let’s start off with the user experience. Why? Because the UX of your site is nothing you can handle by it’s own. Rather, it’s a combination of all different aspects of your website and as that it should be something to keep in mind during the entire design process. But no worries, you don’t need to be an expert to create a solid user experience.


The UX is a combination of all different aspects of your website (Source).

Basically, the UX describes whether or not people:

  • Reach their goals on your site
  • Enjoy using your site
  • Leave with a positive feeling
  • Keep you in good memory
  • Remember you later in time
  • Return to your site
  • Take initiative and tell others about your site

All these aspects combined define the experience visitors have on your site. It’s not enough to offer a usable website, because people will not remember you as “the site that didn’t annoy me”. Neither will they tell their friend: “Hey, it didn’t take me longer than expected to book that flight.” But they will remember your site and tell their friends about it if you can manage to make an impression.

2. Design Framework

Then, there is the design framework that you need to consider before you get started on your actual design. In this article, the design framework defines how your site will respond to different devices. Mobile Internet is getting more and more important and you should have a solid strategy how to handle different screen sizes. There are different solutions that help you deal with your mobile site mobile:

  • Show your desktop version and have users zoom in to see your content
  • Build a mobile site with HTML 5
  • Build a native app for mobile devices
  • Go for a responsive design

People access the web with different motivations, using countless different devices Source.

You might wonder if the design framework is more important that the usability or the visual design of your website? And I can assure you, it’s not. But still, pretty much everything aspect of your site depends on it. Be it your content, visual design, or the usability of your site, all require a different approach for desktop, tablet, and mobile. Therefore, it’s essential to think this through before you start on anything else.

Mobile devices not only have limited screen real estate, also their context of use is different than that of a desktop device. You need to consider entirely new user scenarios
for your mobile site. People will have different goals, different motivations, and they will interact differently with your site.

3. Content

Consider the content of your website its most essential part. You will not succeed in designing an effective and user-friendly website, if you have not first defined your content. Start off with defining who your users are and why you build a website for them in the first place. Consider these questions before proceeding with any actual design:

  • Who are the people that visit my website?
  • Where do they come from and where do they enter my site?
  • Which goals do people have when visiting my site?
  • What kind of information are they interested in?
  • What are their personal needs, desires, and hopes?
  • Which format do they prefer for the presented information?

You need to define your content before you can design an effective and user-friendly website (Source).

A clear image of who your visitors are and why the come to your site is essential to offer relevant content in an effective way. Only after knowing what moves people, you will be able to draw them in and convince them of what you site has to offer.

Understanding your visitors’ motivations will not only help you to offer relevant content, but also structure that content in a relevant way. It will help you optimize your site for SEO, because you know what people are looking for. And it will help you build a relationship with your visitors, because they will feel understood.

4. Usability

Then, of course, you also need to consider the usability of your site. Lately, the term usability might have lost some of it’s initial popularity. Mainly because other aspects, such as the user experience and user engagement have become more popular. However, this does not mean usability is any less important. The usability defines how well specific people can find specific information on your site.

Without good usability, you will never be able to design great experiences for your visitors. People don’t come to your site for the experience. They come for information. If you deny them this information, or make it difficult to find, it’s very unlikely that visitor leave your site with a positive feeling. Without a positive feeling however, people will not remember your site.

It’s your task to make your website as intuitive for your visitors as possible. Another reason, why it is essential that you know, who your visitors are and what their goals are. Take your time to really figure this out before you jump into the design process.

Remember that this is an iterative process. There is no way you will get it right with your first concept. The key to good usability is test, test, and test again.

Hand in hand with the usability of your site goes its accessibility. Make sure your website is accessible to everyone in your target group. In the classical sense, this means whether or not your site still makes sense for color blind, or old people with limited eye sight. Is it usable for depth, or blind people? And is it available on different devices, using mobile connections, different operating systems, or browsers.

5. Visual Design

Eventually, your website also needs a visual design. The design plays an important role for both the usability and the user experience of your site. Design allows you to make information visual, group relevant content, or guide your visitors. At the same time, visual design is what makes your site visually appealing and attractive for your visitors. However, you first need to think about who will visit your site, how they will access it, and what their goals are. Only if you are familiar with the who, the how, and the what, you will be able to come up with a design that will support all these aspects.

There are many design elements you can use to create an appealing and usable design, and at the same time present your content in an effective way. Here is what you should to consider for your visual design.

Gestalt Laws

Gestalt Laws are simple principles or suggestions of how different elements are perceived when combining them in a certain way or order. Gestalt Laws can help you to
structure your content and to create a sense of belonging together on your site. They help you to draw attention to certain elements and establish balance and stability within your design. These are all important aspects when it comes to your content presentation and finding ways to guide your visitors. Gestalt laws that you should consider refer to simplicity, symmetry, experience, closure, continuation, figure & ground, proximity, and similarity.

Color

Color has a big impact on how we perceive things. Choose your colors carefully to (1) match your corporate design — keep it in line with other means of communication to create a unity — and (2) to match the purpose of your site and the preferences of your target group. Different age groups prefer different colors, and different occasions might require different colors. Colors have a big impact on the sphere you create on your site. Also, make sure you are aware of the effects colors have in different cultures.

Typography

Then, there is typography, which is another important aspect of design. Typography can (1) support usability aspects and (2) evoke emotions for a better user experience on your site. The readability and therefore the usability of any content on your site depends on the typography that you use. Not only the font itself and the font-style are important, but also the letter-spacing, line-height, and the overall length of a paragraph defines how well people can read your content.

With a more creative approach to typography, you can even do much more with it that just present information in an effective way. You can also use typography to create appealing designs and to trigger emotions.

Keep it simple

With all the technical possibilities that are available today, it can be difficult to set priorities and not get overwhelmed by too much useless stuff. It is important to keep it simple — this applies to your content, but also to your design. Too much choice, or too much variety will eventually distract your visitors, making it impossible for them to focus. Without focus, visitors are almost doomed to get frustrated. Not finding what they are looking for, not reaching their goals — at least not within the expected timeframe — will leave people confused rather than excited about your site. For every design decision, you should ask yourself if less might not be more.

Emotional design

A design concept that has become increasingly popular the last couple of years is emotional design. Emotional design describes a design approach that aims at a better user experience through emotional engagement of the visitor. There are many different ways to make your design more emotional, for example through more personality, storytelling, or something simple as full page background images.

Certainly, there are more aspects of visual design to consider. Feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

6. Listen to your users

Last but not least, you need to test your website. Why? Because testing your site with real users is the only way to make sure you got it right. A lot of things can already be tested in early stages of the design process — long before your site actually goes live. For these tests, you can choose between a wide range of different techniques — from classic in-lab user testing to automated remote testing with tools, such as Usabilla Survey.

User testing before the launch of a new design has become a common practice among designers and web developers. The next step is that we don’t leave it at that. Also after a website is live, it is of utmost importance that we keep listening to our visitors. Only by keeping in touch with our users, we can make sure the content we offer is still up to date, the design is still appealing, and everything still works the way it should work.

Technology changes quickly and the expectations of our users keep rising with about the same speed. How can we keep up with these expectations if not by listening to our visitors and by acting quickly on their feedback. Check out Usabilla Live to find out how you can stay in touch with your users — to ensure a high user experience.

Your thoughts?

What are your thoughts on the ever-growing web and the rapidly advancing technologies? What do you do to keep up and to stay in touch with your users?

5 comments

  1. Robyn

    Awesome post! I think the needs of the user are the starting point for all website designs. Otherwise what is the point? You should check out the post that my friend did on a pretty similar topic: http://www.thinkbasic.com/posts/website-design-to-be-more-human

  2. Maneet Puri

    Brilliant one Sabina! The thing is that User experience is the primary factor on which the lifeline of a website depends. I mean, what’s the use of having a website that seems beautiful but does not serve its true purpose. I hope your articles do inspire many more down the lane. Have mentioned some more interesting ways to improve user experience in my article ‘Improving Usability and User Experience through Consistent Web Design’. Hope you find it useful.

  3. Jeff

    Great post Sabrina, unfortunately the user is put last in so many cases. People want the coolest trends on their site or they view a page in the latest browser with no security setting and say, “I gotta have that” forgetting that many people aren’t running the same environment that they are.

  4. Andrew

    This was a great post Sabina! My current employer echoes the same philosophy in terms of web design and development. I look forward to your next blog post on design!

  5. Gagan

    Thanks Sabina for making such complex subject easy to understand.

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