Make the user the hero of your website.
6 Dec 2022 by Jeremy Sweetman
I recently responded to a website RFP that asked the question ‘What is your approach to website design?’ Clearly, this is a tricky question to answer because every site is unique. Unique based on the needs of the clients, the audiences, the content, and the purpose of the site. After thinking about it for a while, I summarised our approach as making the needs of the user our hero. Website design is often a balance between the content and experience needs of the user and the communication and business needs of the client. We take the view that achieving a good user experience establishes the platform that will enable the client to also achieve all their goals.
Ok. It’s not rocket science; a good site helps users achieve what’s important to them in ways that are meaningful, enjoyable, and easy. This leads to them coming back again and again and sharing their experience with others. And that’s good for our clients and their users. However, to achieve this user experience there are many things to consider. The following are some of the considerations for delivering a user-as-hero solution.
1. Users at the heart of the design process
A critical part of our web development process is building an in-depth understanding of our audiences, why they are on the site, and what they are looking to achieve. Some ways of achieving this include:
- User personas and stories: A profile and story for each of the primary user groups delivers clarity around information needs, goals and expected behaviour patterns
- User-centred architecture: Card-sorting and other hierarchy grouping and prioritisation exercises engage potential audiences in the design of the information architecture
- User journeys: Clear user paths for each audience provides direction for structure, navigation, design, content, and interaction
- User interaction: User workshops and interviews are core to our process. However, theory often goes out the window when users get on a site – this is where prototypes play a key role. They allow us to test structures, interactions and design in an environment that's close to the final solution
- User testing: Engaging users in the process – as content is populated – allows us to see how they respond and interact with the site, providing opportunities to optimise the experience before launch
2. User empowered navigation
Good user experience starts by supporting users to find what they are looking for and to easily navigate content in an intuitive way. This thinking influences how we set up sites and how we consider user experience elements:
- Universal navigation: Considering whether audiences can see all the options versus revealing options progressively based on initial user choice
- Secondary navigation: Consistent navigation allows users to intuitively learn how to get around the site
- Wayfinding: When applicable, a simple crumb trail provides both context and clarity, and a secondary form of navigation for users wherever they are within the site
- Search: Smart search options, driven by advanced meta data, allow users to quickly sort and filter results, based on variables meaningful to them
- Personalisation: This could include things like saved, favourite or visited content; promotion of similar content based on user preferences; and the creation of ‘folders’ for user to group content. Furthermore, elements like bespoke alerts and notifications drive users back to the site to see preferred content
- User designated landing page: Allowing users to start their journey with content options specific to their requirements
- Active support: Chatbots and other AI learning support that helps users find what they are looking for
3. Content is key
Users come to the site for the content and the experience that surrounds it. It is important to pace and present content with a clear visual hierarchy that aligns with the device and the experience we want the user to have. Considerations include:
- Mobile: With increased engagement on mobile devices, the focus is on how content adapts. This is especially the case for content heavy sites, where active decisions are required around what and how desktop content translates to the mobile experience
- Cognitive load: Pacing pages to ensure the right amount of content is being presented and avoiding content overload
- Rich content: Video has risen in popularity, especially for storytelling and more emotionally engaging content. Depending on the client need, interactive diagrams, quizzes, case studies, games, testimonials, infographics, smart graphs and charts and animation all have a potential role in making content more engaging and understandable
- Accessibility and inclusiveness: Being user-centric means acknowledging that users have different needs and actively looking to support their level of capability. This has considerations for site and content. Additionally, more and more, bilingual and multilingual is a consideration for modern websites.
4. Modern design
Applying modern design principles (Hick’s, Fitt’s, Gestalt, etc.) naturally lends itself to a user-centred approach. Some design considerations include:
- Organic design: Design experiences that balance structured content blocks with a more naturally flowing experience that draws users into the story and into the site
- Increased use of negative space: Lightweight pages are pivotal for how easy a user perceives a site to engage with. Clear space separates content and draws attention directly to the key engagement or conversion points
- Meaningful scroll-triggered animations: Animation triggers to entice users to keep scrolling to discover further content. These tools make websites engaging and lift the overall user experience
- Micro-interactions: Micro-interactions communicate relevant feedback to the user to provide a more meaningful experience, leading to higher levels of engagement
5. Brand and storytelling
Users are more likely to interact with brands they love and trust. Therefore, telling a strong brand story impacts how users think, feel and act on a site. As a brand and communication agency we approach all our website projects as brand opportunities, actively looking for ways to tell client stories in ways that connect with audiences. This means balancing stories of purpose and impact to connect with the heart with factual stories to engage the mind.
We always seek to reflect the client’s purpose, values, and user proposition clearly in the site. We use overall tone and feel, specific design applications, and crafted content to elevate the overall user experience.
6. Future focused user thinking
A user-centric approach means also considering how we keep evolving the site, by understanding how users might engage in the future. Both user preferences and behaviours are constantly evolving and that’s why we must too. By monitoring (via analytics) and testing alternatives against critical user journeys we’re able to deliver a solution that continues to also evolve.
Put simply, our website approach is all about putting ourselves in the shoes of your users. By considering both the big and small things, we can design a web experience that is meaningful, enjoyable and easy. It’s an approach that continues to serve us, and our clients, well.