Information is the lifeblood of design. Without information, design is useless. Web users do not spend as much time focusing on fonts and colors as designers would like to believe. They want information.
Fellow designers, I am with you; I die a little when good companies use inefficient typography.
If the design is not about aesthetics, what is keeping designers from living a life on the run and becoming design vigilantes? Kerning for justice in the face of ugliness?
I'll admit this approach is drastic. So before you go out and buy a cape, try this approach, focus on user experience. Before focusing on aesthetic elements, do your research.
Utilize problem-solving skills to accomplish goals, give users what they need, and organize information effectively. There will be opportunities along the way for you to show off your design prowess, but apart from solving your client's most immediate needs, your pretty designs will only be good enough to frame and hang on the wall. Be sure to utilize good color theory when designing. Take a look at this quick visual guide when you start your web design sketches.
Define Goals and Set Objectives
It is a designer’s job to solve problems and work toward specific goals. Goals must be established before pixels hit the screen. Parameters are set to work toward a specific outcome. While it may seem that rules limit creativity, they actually set the stage for good design. Clearly defined goals produce obtainable objectives.
The first step to designing anything is getting to the core of the problem. This could be anything from providing contact information, to organizing the hierarchy within the page, or achieving more sales. Once a problem is defined, a solution can be created, and objectives are then set to achieve that solution. Define goals for both the user and client, then align those goals. This process gives focus to the design process and clarifies what the design is communicating.
Know Your User
The key to knowing your user is identifying the target audience. The target audience is the ideal audience for your website within your demographic. Keep in mind, the target audience for a website about fuzzy flying unicorns is not composed of 40-year-old businessmen. Some of your audience may include 40-year-old businessmen, but not all.
You may be asking "Shouldn't everyone to be the target audience? The more people you target the more people will visit, right?" When your target audience is everyone the message gets diluted. Users’ needs cannot be anticipated when everyone is part of the target audience.
Here at the agency (Fahrenheit Marketing in Austin), we create "User Personas". A User Persona is a fictional or real user of the website. It works for us like a guide in answering questions that would be relevant to a specific user, in this case, our persona.
Related Article: Just Say No: 7 Website Design Mistakes That Can Hurt Conversion
A persona can embody the demographic of the user and have the same motivations as the target audience. However, the user persona can also represent a user who does not use your site. This shows who not to design for, which can be just as helpful. A while back we published an article here on Business.com that addressed different target groups and how to be sure to include your target audience.
Designers utilize User Personas to solve problems with a specific user in mind. Personas paired with other research methods such as competitor analysis and an analytical review gives designers the tools to understand who their user is, what they are accustomed to, and what motivates them.
Design With Users in Mind
The goal for creating optimal user experience is making the site obvious and simple, which is not as simple as it seems. Designers use research to craft tailored experiences for the user. Utilize conventions within the demographic to make the design easier to use. Conventions do not produce conventional design when they are used to enhance usability. Important information should be easily accessible to ensure users can accomplish their goals.
For example, If the user is looking to access contact information, contact information must be on top of the visual hierarchy. The visual hierarchy needs to be arranged so information is scannable. This includes clearly defining sections and reducing clutter to clarify information. Allow some information to fall back so important information can move forward. Decipher what is important by referring back to the research throughout the design process. Give the user what they need, while simultaneously enticing them to go deeper into the site.
Designers have a complete arsenal of skills to create work that is visually pleasing and efficient for the user. Ultimately, precise planning goes into excellent web usability. When designers do their research, they can better understand their users and present information for optimal usability.