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Web users are bigger than egos

Placing users at the centre of the design process is imperative for a usable website. Leave your ego at the door and find out what matters in creating usable websites.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

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Web design is not Rock ‘n Roll

If you want to be on your knees milking the applause of a frenzied crowd then you are in the wrong business. I suggest you give up web design and join a band. You will have more chance of adulation then. Quite simply if you get web design right the chances are that no one will pay any attention to you. If you get it wrong they will find you irritating. Web design is a little bit like being a football referee - if you do a good job nobody pays any attention to you. So - how do you get to being anonymous?

Profile your audience

The most important thing is to place users at the centre of your design process. Who are the people who are going to use the site? What are the most common things they want to do? Design around these points, not around a whim or the latest shiney surface Web 2.0 interface. If you don’t give your users what they want they won’t come.

Get them involved in the process

The great thing about the web is its immediacy. If you can find users from your target demographic get them involved in the design process as it progresses. Listen to what they say. You don’t have to take on everything on board but there will certainly be one or two things that you won’t have thought of.

Test with your audience

As the development cycle progresses test the site with members of your target demographic. If for example you are building a site for electric wheelchairs find some users who fit your demographic. If they tell you they can’t read the font then enlarge it.

Organise your site around audience not your business

Too many sites mirror the internal structure of the business without paying any attention to what users want. As a user I’m not interested in a profile of the CEO and his underlings if I want to employ a Printer. Show me the products and prices up front and give me quick access to a means of searching what is on offer.

Continue to gather feedback

Launching a site is a big enterprise and you deserve a rest afterwards. Go to the pub and have a drink. But don’t rest on your laurels. A good website should listen to its users and evolve. More and more sites are launching in Beta for just this reason. It is only when users actually use the site that you realise that some things don’t work and you need to change them. Similarly if other things are proving popular you should promote them further.

Invest in maintenance and enhancements

Any web budget should take account of maintenance and enhancements. Launching a site and then leaving it is like creating a garden and then letting it go to seed.

Learn from usage

The web allows decision making to be truely transparent. If your boss thinks that a particular direction for the site is correct then you can test his / her assumptions a month or so later with the web statistics. When you show him / her that the idea has attracted 4 visitors and no sales you don’t need to say he / she is wrong - the facts do it for you. Tracking data should inform your decision making as much as the business brains that may or may not know their market.

Silence is golden

What happens if the phone never rings? What happens if no-one ever complains? Either no-one is using your site or you have done a very good job. You may not be a rock star but if your ego needs massaging let the silence do it for you - you have succeeded. But fear not - it won’t be too long before the phone rings again.

Have an update or suggestion for this article? You can edit it here and send me a pull request.

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