The Rise of User Centered Web Design
BY ITW Consulting
Web Design and Development
Building A Successful Website By Understanding The Importance Of User-Centered Design
When you find yourself in the process of designing a new website, the forces that help you sculpt the website end up being very important. Everything from the client to the unique requirements for the project can play a role. This includes both the trends and changes occurring within the web design space too.
However, there is an even newer business strategy that has started to impact the way websites are designed and that has re-defined what a functional website entails. In this, we are referring to user-centered design. This is what all of the most popular search engines want when it comes to ranking a site. Because of this, it’s incredibly important to adhere to them, but also because it helps you meet the expectations of users.
You want to center your design around the user. You want to look at how they will be using and interacting with your site. This is important to meet or exceed their expectations. This process looks at how a user interacts with your website from start to finish. This includes the entire design and development process. Thus, all of the design and fundamental principles need to maintain a high level of consistency throughout.
What Exactly Is User-Centered Website Design?
User-centered design when it comes to website development is the same as user-centered design (UCD) outside of websites. No matter what the application is, it’s a set of processes and strategies that put the user first. The entire strategy and processes involved are centered around the user and how they will be using the product (website).
Putting your users first, it’s going to create a better product for them. Setting the requirements for your users at the center of your design process will maximize the relevancy of your website and improve their satisfaction. While it may sound like an entirely new concept, it’s not. This philosophy was originally introduced by Norman and Draper way back in 1986 in their book that detailed human and computer interaction.
The core principles were primarily focused on product features in both hardware and software. However, you can apply the same principles to website design including other design solutions.
Not Every Human Is Your User
The biggest difference with the original idea discussed by Norman and Draper is that you shouldn’t necessarily cater to every human. They implied that you want to center your design around “every” human requirement. While you could do this, you don’t necessarily want to.
After all, not everyone is going to be your user. Thus, User-Centered Design focuses much more on your target audience and their respective wants and needs. It encourages a laser focus on these users and how they will be interacting with your site directly.
UCD is something that looks at the individual needs of your site. Not everyone has the same motivations, preferences, or habits. Nor do they have the same behavior patterns. Thus, you want to center your design based on your users. This is all about looking at your target demographic. You want to create and utilize a specific user persona to base all of your design decisions around. This can help your entire design team make informed decisions as it relates to what features to focus on and what design elements to integrate into the design of your site.
A User-Centered web design approach assumes that the specific group that you are designing the website for is going to have similar wants and needs. Because of this, a designer would need to understand them fully. They will want to guide the entire team towards creating the optimal product for that specific persona and target market.
User-Centered Design Versus User Experience
UCD isn’t something that can be one-to-one compared to user experience (UX). While both are important and they go hand-in-hand, they aren’t the same. When used cohesively, they can help to guide a user through the website correctly.
To comprehend the difference between them, you can look at UCD as the design that helps optimize the user’s experience. It ends up being more of the backbone of the experience. It will showcase the developer’s intentions and a good design relies on them having a very good understanding of the target audience’s preferences and more. Everything needs to work as if it was optimized for the target persona throughout every touchpoint within the development process.
One of the biggest mistakes a lot of companies end up making when it comes to figuring out a strategy for their web design is looking to prioritize their business goals over the usability of their site. Your website needs to have a core focus on providing an optimized and high-quality experience for your target audience. The needs of your business need to be put second throughout the design phase.
With UCD, everything is done the opposite of prioritizing business. Instead, the target audience and its needs are considered at the heart of the design stage. Everything from start to finish focuses on improving the experience for the targeted users. This includes everything from their demographics to their pain points and more. Everything is used throughout the creation of the design process. That way, you are left with a website that is heavily optimized for them. It will have all of the requisite elements they are looking for to have a good and optimized user experience.
User-Centered Design Is An Iterative Process
An iterative process is continually being improved upon. The entire process needs to be iterative at its core. It’s the primary foundation of any UCD philosophy. What you come up with initially is never going to be the best way to finish things off. It means going through and actively testing the design and going back to retool things. You need to go back to the drawing board time and time again to refine things. You don’t want gaps or loose ends present in the final design. You need to explore different variations throughout the entire process until you find something that is highly optimized for your intended user.
Every web designer will use different tools and methods to try to execute a proper evaluation of their design. They want to fully understand their user’s needs and they will go about it in different ways. This can include offering surveys to their target market and even brainstorming ideas with other experts. They will try to do these things before getting into the nitty-gritty details of the design stage.
The data they accumulate is going to then be used to help define a set of user goals and requirements. They will use that data to ensure they are satisfying that criteria throughout every stage of the design process.
This continual refinement is pertinent to coming up with an end product that is highly optimized. Everything will continually be gradually enhanced from the early stages to the later stages. All of the steps which are outlined below will help the designers incorporate important feedback from both the client and user until the website is deemed ready.
The Different Phases Of An Iterative Design Process
To properly implement UCD, here are some of the major phases that need to be covered throughout the process of creating a user-centered website:
- Task Requirements: Understand how the users are going to be using the site on both mobile and desktop devices
- Research and Persona Development: Who exactly are the users of the site and what do they want and need?
- Information Architecture and Interface Design: How exactly will the designers go about developing solutions?
- Evaluating User Interactions: Looking at how the users will interact with the sit and figure out ways to test if it works.
- Continuing to iterate until all of the UCD goals are met.
Why Is User-Centered Design So Effective?
The beauty of this type of design process has to do with including everyone important in it. It includes everything no matter how insignificant of a role they play in it. It could be the marketing executive or the developer. Everyone gets involved with it.
A lot of businesses may wonder whether or not it’s an efficient use of resources to get everyone involved. The answer is a resounding “yes.”
According to Usability.gov, there are many benefits of UCD for a website that include:
- Improving the performance of the site. It can effectively improve the overall performance of the site. It can do so by minimizing user errors. By making a website easier to use, the user won’t get frustrated with navigating the site. They will end up finding what they are looking for in the first place.
- It increases exposure. UCD can help to increase exposure to a brand, product, or service. It does this by effectively improving the metrics all over. Some of the most important metrics can be increased traffic, reduced bounce rates, increased return visits, and more. A highly optimized design for the user can help not only retain old visitors but also attract brand new ones.
- Improves the credibility of the website. Having a highly optimized UCD will help to boost the perception of the website and business by the visitors. The credibility level of your business can be measured in different ways. Some of them include trust, satisfaction, and referrals. All of these things can be increased through better design.
- Reduces the burden on your company’s resources. A lot of organizations will find that it is much easier to create a highly optimized design from the start. This can help to avoid having to redesign the website and it can reduce maintenance and ongoing marketing costs too.
- It increases sales. You will end up with a better-performing website. This can help to boost conversions and sales across the board. When you are looking at the different reasons why IT projects fail, Usability.gov notes that the majority of them fall on poor communication between developers, customers, and users. This isn’t a mistake you want to make in your business.
User-Centered Web Design Best Practices
This type of design can be achieved by effectively considering various guidelines from the beginning stages of the design process. Some of the most important factors include keeping things simple, consistent, relevant, and having optimized feedback too. There are some other important guidelines you need to have for UCD websites that include:
Research And Analyzing
You need to figure out who your target audience is. You’ll need to create specific user personas to figure out their specific tasks. You can do this by asking real visitors about their experiences and conducting surveys. Try to get everyone involved with this process.
Map The Customer Journey
You want to create an optimized map of the customer’s journey. You want to understand how your system interlinks and takes your customer on the ideal journey whether it ends with reading your blog or buying a product or service.
This can give you a very clear vision of how your content is leading to the next. Try to conduct a “tree test.” This will help you figure out if your structure needs work. You want to test all of the most critical pages to ensure they are exactly where a user thinks they should be.
You need to clean up your site’s navigation. You want a simple structure. You don’t want users wondering where something is. Your content needs to be accessible wherever they are on your site. A good way to do this is by having an optimized site map.
Visuals and Layout
You want to try to leverage visual design to communicate both information and tone. Try to mix things up to include simple yet informative visuals. Try to avoid splashing too much color. Draw attention to the right parts of your site. Always try to break up text into much more digestible chunks.
You want to conduct usability testing all the time. This will show you how users are interacting with your site. It can give you a lot of pertinent data that you can use to figure out how to improve the usability of your website.
Instant Feedback For Users
you want to get instant and clear feedback. This is one of the most important things to have if you want to create a site based on UCD. This helps to assure the user that their input matters. It could be submitting a form or entering their email. You need to show them their action was accounted for.
Your site needs to be highly accessible. It needs to point the user in the direction they need to go to achieve their end goal of being on your site. You don’t want users guessing when they are navigating your site.
You can do this in many ways. One of them is having a basic search feature on your site. You also want to lay out your content in a way that doesn’t confuse people. Also, having a site map will help a lot.
Don’t Forget About Mobile
A lot of people are using mobile devices more than their desktop counterparts. Because of this, you need to enhance and optimize your website and content for smaller screens. Try to figure out more about your mobile users. Look to see what they are doing, what they are looking for, and how they are interacting with your site.
Some Important Questions For Mobile Users:
- Why are they visiting your site using a mobile device?
- What features are they using most on their mobile devices?
- What features are essential for a mobile device?
- What is causing pain when a user views your site on a mobile device?
- What kind of mobile devices are they using?
Reasons Why Designers Need To Focus On UCD
Adhering to UCD principles is essential for every business. You need a website that is going to work for your users. Having a UCD-focused website, you can minimize cart abandonment and eliminate user frustration. They will have a site that was designed and optimized for them. That way they can use the site to find exactly what they are looking for and they will much more likely to come back because of it.