Design with the User in Mind

February 12th, 2009
Published on
February 12th, 2009

Congratulations, you have designed an amazingly illustrative website that is sure to get featured on every design gallery and inspirational site. You code it up to perfect validations and use innovative new CSS and Javascript techniques. You even add in some exceptional content worthy of book publishing deals. You upload the files to the web for all of the net-society to drool and fawn over as you lean back in your chair and think “Time to relax and let the visitors roll in.

Now, 2 months later, those hundreds of thousands of hits a day you were hoping for have not shown themselves. You check the stats daily for signs of making more than the 400 daily hits you get from your gallery submissions, but it never comes. Now instead of leaning back and relaxing, you’re hunched up over your laptop staring at your site, screaming in your head all the while “Why? Why is my traffic so low?

The Answer: You did not design with the user in mind.

You cannot run a successful website without having the design and functionality geared towards your users. The user does not care if you are offering unprecedented prices, exceptional sales, the perfect answer to their question, or that one-bit of info that will change their life for the better in some way if they cannot use your site. It has been proven time-and-time-again that it is the easy-to-access product which puts user’s needs first succeeds far beyond those products that make it difficult for the user.

Case Study: Apple iPod

Point: iPod
Apple has always put out well-designed devices, causing a large buyer base to generate around their sleek, sexy, and powerful product lines. Nothing exemplifies this more than the iPod line. There is a reason why people say, “I want an iPod!” instead of “I want an MP3 player!” The iPod’s slick and gentle curve design makes it pleasing to the eye and the ultra-simple and intuitive controls make it easy to use. Exactly what the users want.

Counter-Point: Zune
Some of you may be saying, “Well, what about the Zune?” and yes, the Zune is a perfect iPod competitor, but there are two flaws: It is too heavy and, and it released when the iPod had a dominant market share. The reason I bring up the Zune here in the counter-point is that the iPod is losing its control on the MP3 market. Why? Because the new generation of iPods (5th generation) do not have the same design aesthetics as the originals. To be frank, the new generation is horrible design wise. They are too small, what they did to the design would be the equivalent of compressing Angelina Jolie to 3 feet tall.

Guidelines to Checking Your Product’s Usability

Keeping your sites and products accessible by the user is the key to generating traffic and sales in any industry, but sometimes it can be hard to tell when your product/design has become unusable. Here are a few guidelines to check when creating your product to help keep you in the green with usability.

Get some fresh eyes:

Since you are the designer, you know that the ten by ten pixel orange block at the top right of your content area is the RSS feed button, but the users do not. Have someone who hasn’t seen the design or been told what certain things/areas are look at the design and guess what each area is, then adjust the areas where they guessed wrong to encourage the correct answer.

Stop Re-Inventing the Wheel:

Use Standard conventions when you can to help users us your product intuitively without thinking about what that function is.

Make Key Areas Stand Out:

Every product has an area/purpose that it is trying to bring innovation to, so make that area/purpose obvious. If users cannot figure out what your product is used for, then they will not use your product.

Use Logic when Designing:

This is my biggest tip; make sure your product or site follows a logical pathway. The Users are following the proverbial road laid out by your product so when you’re taking them from point A to point B don’t have the road suddenly veer off to point Q with a detour to point N.

The Sum of it All

The idea that I’m trying to get rooted in your head is that it’s easy to design an awesome site, but it’s more rewarding if you take the time and plan your designs with your user in mind. Illustrative borders, vector avatars, and brilliant animations may look nice, but they’re only decorations on a Christmas tree. The tree and presents underneath are the real substance of your site and are what your visitors and users will take away from your site, so give it the time and attention it deserves to take it from a pleasant experience to an extraordinary one.